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Monday, August 5, 2019


(Benedict Cumberbatch plays Thomas Edison)

A drama based on the relative merits of the alternating and direct current systems does not make for electrifying cinema. (Review by Patrick Compton - 6/10)

The Current War is a handsomely made, but dramatically inert, period drama about the tussle for supremacy between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and (occasionally) Nikola Tesla in the race to commercialise the invention of electricity in the United States.

The film, set in the 1880s, spends little time on the scientific issues involved, beyond some vague, unenlightening waffle about AC and DC and how the one is supposedly safer albeit less commercially viable than the other, preferring instead to highlight the rivalry between the two main antagonists, Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) with occasional appearances by the largely sidelined Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).

The film, a long-shelved casualty of the Weinstein Company collapse, is a sturdy attempt to bring its dry subject to life, but for all the efforts of Cumberbatch, Shannon and Hoult, not to mention some intricate direction and skittish editing, the film remains a relatively dull affair despite a somewhat desperate attempt to heat up the drama with a sub-plot about the invention of the electric chair.

The opposing tendencies of scientific integrity and human drama are always difficult to integrate; unfortunately Edison’s character is cool to the point of chilly, while we have to rely on Westinghouse’s relationship with his ambitious wife for any kind of human interest. In some ways, Tesla is the most interesting character of the lot, but is largely passed over.

The impressive cast do their best, but the movie’s problem largely lies with Michael Mitnick’s scatty script that tries to introduce too many points of focus, resulting in a frustrating narrative hodgepodge.

The Current War is presently on commercial release in Durban. – Patrick Compton