“The Current War: Director’s Cut” is unique in a bunch of ways. In fact, how it is unique is much more interesting than the movie itself. The first intrigue is the title. It’s not about a war. At least not a traditional war. The current referred to is electrical current as in what powers light bulbs.
The film’s story is the conflict between powerhouse inventors Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. The plot is enlightening but not all that electric. Things kick off in 1880 when the nation’s fledgling electric power industry is just getting off the ground.
Edison has mastered the filament light bulb, thumbs his nose at Westinghouse and goes to work to light up a nation.
The public, politicians — and more importantly — investors are in awe. The big question now is how to tap this marvelous new technology. The two men had differing ideas on how it should be put together. Edison championed direct current or DC, and Westinghouse — correctly — knew alternating current, or AC was cheaper and much more efficient.
That fact pretty much ruins the suspense because the AC in “The Current War” is what the world ended up using.
Edison’s objection had to do with AC being dangerous. Use it wrong and you’re dead. That leads an ongoing plot thread — and a tedious lecture — about using alternate current as a tool to execute criminals.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Edison and Michael Shannon is Westinghouse. Nicholas Hoult does Nikola Tesla who interacts at times with both Edison and Westinghouse. All three are outstanding actors. Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated Cumberbatch (Marvel’s Dr. Strange, “The Imitation Game”) and Hoult (the X-Men series) are both capable of generating high energy performances. Capable is one thing. Getting an opportunity to do so is quite another.
Shannon — who also has Oscar and Golden Globe-nominations for “Nocturnal Animals” and “Revolutionary Road” — has an acting MO that is more low key. Of all the film’s characters, he at least manages to keep your interest.
A pre-Spider-man Tom Holland co-stars with Matthew Macfadyen who does banker J.P. Morgan, Tuppence Middleton and Katherine Waterston as the wives of the two inventors and Tom Bell is an advocate for the humane execution of murderers using electricity.
In places you feel bad for the actors involved. They have very little to do. Cumberbatch, Shannon and Hoult do the best they can with a sorry script from fledgling writer Michael Mitnick (“The Giver”). The first half of the film short circuits and is about as interesting as watching Science Guy Bill Nye use a van de Graaff generator to make his hair stand up for 45-minutes.
The second half is a real-life chess match involving how two genius inventors more or less invented electric power. That ramps things up a little.
It’s just not enough.
Sadly, “The Current War: Director’s Cut” is a waste of acting talent and the decent storytelling skills of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“American Horror Story”). That leads the movie’s history and why Director’s Cut is part of the title. That history is a lot more interesting than the movie.
The movie was released two years ago in 2017 as “The Current War.” It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Gomez-Rejon was forced to release the movie by Weinstein Company head Harvey Weinstein. It was what Weinstein wanted and not what Gomez-Rejon shot, edited and had in mind.
The reaction at the festival was negative. Resoundingly so.
Then Weinstein hit his personal Waterloo. Accusations of sexual misdeeds came in by the score. Weinstein projects were suspended and dropped. Some are just now coming back into the light.
“The Current War” is one of them.
That leads us to the last part of the title, “Director’s Cut.” When you see a film with that added to the title it usually means a director had more footage and longer times in mind than what the producers, studios and theater chains want. The longer the movie, the fewer times it can show per day and the lower the profits for all involved.
Ultimately when a directors cut is released it’s longer, often bloated and it rarely adds all that much to a story. Most often you see a directors cut with a DVD release and most often from super hero, science fiction or horror movies.
In the case of “The Current War: Director’s Cut,” the director’s cut is a little shorter and some say, a little tighter. Gomez-Rejon thinks this release has more energy. It may have more energy in his mind but the film is still terribly lacking in anything resembling an electric current or an electric performance.
The bottom-line: “The Current War: Director’s Cut” is a fascinating story that I do recommend. However, it doesn’t manage to generate a whole of of electricity, and the electricity it does manage is mostly static.
▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some violence. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Queensgate 12 and at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.
▪ Rating: 3 out of 5