Film Review: The Current War

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Current War is a well performed and visually pleasing historical drama. The film engages viewers throughout, building tension in an admirable way.

In the late 19th century, the US is still lit by fire. Inventor Thomas Edison is certain his direct current system is the way to provide electric light to America. Entrepreneur George Westinghouse and his alternate current system compete with Edison to light up the country…

Focusing on the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the late 19th century and the race to connect the US to electricity, The Current War takes place at a very exciting moment in history. Screenwriter Michael Mitnick’s narrative chooses to view the race through the rivalry of these two men, with some focus on other key players. 

Film is a historical drama, focusing on key moments in a thirteen-year span. There are some moments of levity, but for the most part The Current War is a serious affair. The film is suitably earnest, although some later moments are not quite as tense as director may have hoped for. The narrative tells us something about these two characters, even if it is not immediately clear. Initially posits the two protagonists as distinct entities; the inventor who wants to do good against the entrepreneur who wants to make money. Predictably, the film is not quite as simple as this, and subverts initial expectations. 

Gomez-Rejon shows some visual flair with his direction. Panning and tracking shots are frequent, perhaps hoping to replicate frenetic setting. The art direction and costumes are wonderful. There is a rich use of colour, and some striking contrasts which are most appealing. Performances solid throughout. Michael Shannon and Benedict Cumberbatch are great as the protagonists. Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Macfadyen stand out in supporting roles. Katherine Waterston is also good in a minor role. 

The Current War should prove rewarding for those with a rudimentary knowledge of the events. Those with more expertise should still find the film most enjoyable. 

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