THE MOVIE GUY — ‘The Current War’ can’t live up to hype

Published 12:01 am Friday, October 25, 2019

“The Current War” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago. Critics and film buffs were keeping an eye on the movie because of its juicy historical premise and notable cast, but it fell off the radar when a sex abuse scandal took down producer Harvey Weinstein. Without a powerful studio backing the film, it disappeared into the trash bin of cinematic history.

Not so fast.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rajon has been tinkering with the movie during these past two years and found a way to convince newly-founded Studio 101 to bring this forgotten title back into theaters. Was it worth the wait? That probably depends on your predisposition toward the story or the actors that made the film notable in the first place.

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In “The Current War,” Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison as he is working to bring electric lighting to the world. His direct-current form of electricity offers great promise, but his competitor, George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) favors the alternating-current method. The two inventors lock horns as they promote their proprietary technology while vilifying the competition.

This is truly a fascinating story—one that certainly deserves a great movie treatment. Unfortunately, “The Current War” is not that great movie. The story gets bogged down in the details, when it’s the portraits of these titans of industry that need to take center stage. These are fascinating, larger-than-life, quintessential American characters that deserve a much stronger artistic effort.

Cumberbatch and Shannon (and Nicholas Hoult playing Nikola Tesla to a lesser extent) are good in their roles, but not so much that they rise above the level of solid competence. These are all acclaimed actors who are known for their abilities to portray great characters and elevate their movies with their on-screen charisma. They simply don’t rise to the occasion this time out.

I will give the producers credit for trying to make this into something of an arthouse film. The cinematography and production design are nice, but the constantly-swooping camera is overused, the screenplay is overwritten and the music is frequently intrusive. I appreciate that the filmmakers took a big swing here, but they just didn’t connect in this movie.

There are still plenty of things to admire in “The Current War.” I suspect that fans of Cumberbatch and Shannon will enjoy the film, and the real-life story is certainly intriguing. This is simply one of those occasions when a filmmaker’s best intentions don’t quite live up to the hype behind the movie.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at