An interesting story doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting film. The underhanded battle to bring electricity to America could conceivably be absorbing, in book form, with the right writer. Cinematically, it’s a flabby old dud.
The major problem is that this is less a tale of invention than infrastructure. When the story begins, in the late 1800s, electricity has already been harnessed. Thomas Edison has become famous for popularising electric light, but he’s not the only bright spark in the electricity game. He and rival voltage-enthusiast George Westinghouse are in a battle to make their two different electrical systems the national standard. What is anyone supposed to do with that? As a plot, it’s almost juiceless; a load of dreary chat about ampères and dynamos.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’) has gathered an impressive cast – Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as Westinghouse, as well as Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston and Nicholas Hoult – but he seems aware that his story is a low-watt bulb, so he directs as hard as he can. There are long tracking shots, big overhead swoops, slow-mos, speed-ups, wonky camera tilts. Ultimately, they make it less dynamic than just plain manic.
It is all a lot of effort for very little output, sadly. ‘The Current War’ has lots of flashy lights and whizzy features, but it remains fatally underpowered.