Because 2020 couldn't get ant worse (or could it?), it seems studios are dusting off their "shelved" films and gearing them up for public consumption. Along with 'The New Mutants', which given recent events will probably never see the light of day, we have 'The Current War' which made its festival debut back in 2017, suffered production woes, reshoots, recuts and sadly having the Weinstein name attached to it, to finally end up here and now. And I'm here to tell you, it wasn't worth the wait.
'The Current War' - or as I called it for its running time, 'The Pissing Contest' - is about the 13-year war between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch, 'The Imitation Game') and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon, 'The Shape Of Water') as to who would provide America's electricity. Tesla (Nicholas Hoult, 'Mad Max: Fury Road') gets a small look-in as well. Yes, he is part of the story, but ultimately I felt his inclusion was there more so one character could utter, "There's never going to be anything named Tesla ever again," and a modern, knowing audience could have a momentary chuckle.
Edison had the brains, the fame, the ego and the shady business tactics. Westinghouse had the money, the smarts, the overly-supportive wife and the humility to strive for a legacy and to leave a positive mark on the world over wealth and fame. And poor Tesla had the genius, the wisdom and the desperate need to be heard. Oh, what they could have accomplished working together instead of becoming enemies. While a fascinating story, 'The Current War' doesn't quite have the goods to captivate the cinema-going audience. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon ('Me and Earl and the Dying Girl') along with his DoP Chung-hoon Chung ('It') have created a very beautiful, crisp, rich-looking world. Every frame is visually interesting, even modern-looking with a hint of Baz Luhrmann - anything to keep you engaged as the players yammer on about natural gas, direct currents, alternating currents, copper wires, motors and a lot of talk about bulbs. Men and their bulbs - am I right!? The story is there, but we're not talking about the merits of a simple yarn here; this is a film, not a pitch for a good read. The story is too complicated as it deals with politics, dominance over an entire country, egos and ethics - you don't just see the glossing over of important and detailed information, you can feel it too. There are just too many "Wait, did I miss something?" moments as the film bounces along like a car on a dirt road.
When bad movies happen to great actors.
In another case of "when bad movies happen to great actors", 'The Current War' has all the elements for a great picture including its exceptional cast, but lacks the base appeal for the people who have to buy a ticket. Sadly, this is a rare and unfortunate case of the sum of the film's parts being greater than the whole.