Movie reviews by
3 (out of 4)
The appropriate prescription for drafting a movie review suggests a pun here or there is just good fun and, especially as a headline or parting sentence, often inevitable. With The Current War the fruit has never hung so low – no matter how you come down on this picture it's just too easy to joke about, so I’ll just get it all out of the way now and say the film is enlightening if not electrifying and has enough battery life to bypass short circuiting etc. etc.
Before it was shelved a result of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, what would become the original version of the predictably tailored Oscar bait premiered to general derision at the 2017 TIFF. Thus after the film was acquired by the ashes of The Weinstein Company (Lantern Entertainment oddly enough) and entirely re-edited in eventual post-post-production – the ineffectual subtitle Director's Cut used in advertisements was at least stupid for a reason – The Current War picked up distribution at last. Two years ago the film would have arrived with the muted response deserving of the least trustworthy device for Academy awareness. Today the circumstances are not too different except this historical drama doesn't conduct itself (damn it) like an awards sweetener firsthand.
A multifarious biopic, turn of the century period piece, hoity-toity costume picture – the film has all the mandatory accoutrements of past, proven Weinstein-backed snores. The secret ingredient is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, director of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, who is enriched with his cache of filmmaking sleights and strategies and was not hesitant to enforce his final word as head honcho. He found a clause in executive producer Martin Scorsese's contract securing creative control including reshoots deemed artistically necessary because of the rushed post-production of the first cut. However deficient the early draft of The Current War may have been, Gomez-Rejon's renovation can’t help but spin the stodgiest of historical topics and trifling rivalries into an intriguing exercise.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, Matthew Macfayden as J. P. Morgan all ensure their roles are not overstated caricatures but suitable embodiments of towering Industrial Age figures. Hollywood's always calling on Cumberbatch to be the face of curt robotic thinkers real and fictional – Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, his stint leading Sherlock and I guess playing the WikiLeaks guy counts too – but his analogously contemptible and smug Edison is apparently in accordance with historical memory. Shannon and Macfayden have never disappointed and don't here. Meanwhile Hoult could have easily disgraced the most important innovative magnate to the story, but his Tesla, while no David Bowie in The Prestige, measures up to the young actor's best attempts.
But really it's Gomez-Rejon stealing the show, eagerly snatching from his grab bag of influences and techniques to ward off possible boredom as his rendition of the dawn of the 20th century unfolds. The Current War is also written with unthinkable wit by playwright Michael Mitnick, who initially envisioned the AC/DC contention as a musical in the making before dozens of subsequent drafts. The script also refuses to congratulate or condescend to today's audiences for common knowledge, at least not as egregiously as some of its genre equivalents. The screenplay spells out the authorship of invention in a fascinating fashion, finding truths on business, politics, journalism and the global direction of technology applicable to our removed 21st century existence.
Usually generous explanation and exposition can be a waste of time – Mitnick, although he takes the popular route, realized that the social concerns relating to the intellectual and economic contest of the countrywide alternating versus direct current Westinghouse/Edison skirmish would be more captivating than some patronizing science class. Even if Gomez-Rejon wasn’t pulling out all the cinematographic stops – whips pans, low angles, zooms, overheads, breathless tracking shots, headlong editing, literally you name it, there's a movie moment like it – there would still be an engrossing chapter of the past left to uncover.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Rise of Skywalker
A Hidden Life
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice