‘The Current War’ review: Low-voltage historical drama

Hurried storytelling and writing means even Benedict Cumberbatch cannot save this film from flickering out

The minds behind The Current War took the adjective ‘electrifying’ a bit too seriously. It’s a film that deals with the advent of electricity as we know it, and for some reason, a sizeable portion of the film features rapidly wonky camera work and choppy editing, as if the makers confused electrifying with electrocution, in the pursuit of visual innovation. The camera has the attention span of a mockingbird, unable to settle on a person for more than a few seconds. It’s understandably restrictive to film an intangible element like electricity and when it’s at the centre of your narrative, it’s tempting to attempt something unique. But no amount of innovation in form or authenticity in mise en scène can salvage a film that's anchored in incoherent and bland storytelling.

The Current War
  • Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland, Tuppence Middleton, Matthew Macfadyen, Nicholas Hoult
  • Storyline: Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse compete over whose electrical technology will change the course of human civilisation

The film, which was kept in cold storage for over two years, after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, was one of the first to be affected by Harvey Weinstein’s collapse, after he was accused of sexual harassment under the #MeToo movement in Hollywood in 2017. After revival, with a new cut and new producers, the film has finally got a commercial release. But we would not have missed much if otherwise. Even Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison appears to be a regurgitation of the beaten-down underdogs that he has played before, rather than being a saleable factor driving the film.

There’s a certain hurry with which The Current War is told, which is the root cause of all that’s wrong with the film. Actors and scenes aren’t given enough time and space to reach their peak sentiments individually, and therefore the film as a whole is unable to hit an emotional crescendo overall. The hurry can be noticed in the writing as well, where many scenes, especially in the first half, seldom reach their conclusion, let alone are allowed to breathe. If experimentation and dismantling of templates was the intent, then there's a lack of consistency. It’s not that the film lacks a point of view. It does comment on the collaborative effort, jealousies, compromise and dark side of innovation. When we eulogise innovators, what is that they have given up in the course of changing human history?

There’s an attempt to explore the bargains, the ups and downs, while refraining from one-tracked dark horse or underdog narrative, which is a go-to option for period biopics. Much like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (played by a subtle and affecting Michael Shannon), filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has an intent for innovation, but unlike the two American innovators, Gomez-Rejon’s attempt would find it extremely to difficult to make a dent in history.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 6:47:48 PM |

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