Before there was Blu-ray vs HD DVD, or VHS vs Betamax, there was the battle to power them both, AC vs DC. In January 1880, Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) filed the patent for his cotton thread filament incandescent light bulb, and the world was forever changed. However, in order to be able to get the electricity to power these bulbs to homes and businesses, Edison would need the help of financial investors. The government had offered him millions to build them munitions, but Edison was adamant that he would never build a device that takes the life of another man. So this Wizard of Menlo Park sought backing from millionaire J.P. Morgan (Matthew Macfadyen, and started work on rolling out his DC-powered system for the New York Stock Exchange.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon)—after being recently spurned by Edison—decides to pursue his own solution for bringing electricity to the masses. And with the help of his chief electrician Franklin Pope (Stanley Townsend), he develops a new solution that utilizes AC current, which can be transmitted over longer distances at a significantly lower price. And so both men set out to make their system the more more widely adopted one by cities and towns across the nation, kicking off the War of the Currents. While Westinghouse genuinely believes his system to be better and more efficient, Edison will stop at nothing to make sure he “wins” this battle, escalating things by manipulating the press, spinning a narrative that Westinghouse’s DC current is dangerous and deadly.
The Current War is a beautiful, artistic film, with an story and real-life characters, blended with some really unique editing and scene transitions, plus an amazing score. The film features some stellar performances. Cumberbatch is amazing as the ego-driven Edison, who is constantly consumed by his work, often ignoring his wife Mary (Tuppence Middleton) and their two children. Edison’s arrogance doesn’t allow him to accept the possibility that his system may be inferior. And so, in his quest to win this war, he resorts to doing things that would normally go completely against his moral code. Trying to be the voice of reason in his ear is his personal assistant Samuel Insull (Tom Holland), but even he knows that there’s likely no changing Edison’s mind once he has it set on something. Michael Shannon is also phenomenal as George Westinghouse, who starts of as someone who genuinely thinks he has found a better solution to the electricity problem, but is unwittingly pulled into this battle when he is ignored and maligned by Edison. He doesn’t care about making money or being famous, and let an ego get in his way—he just wants to do what is right. Encouraging him in this battle is his wife Marguerite (Katherine Waterston), who has some sneaky ideas of her own.
I started off really enjoying this film, but after a while it just felt like it was stretching things out and going on a bit too long. There were a couple areas of the movie that could have been edited down. First, there were these Civil War flashbacks with George Westinghouse that never really yielded any pay-off. Also, there was a much larger arc following inventor Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult)—he arrives in America filled with ideas, and gets a job at Edison’s lab, but the project he really wants to work on is the DC motor that he has been dreaming of. While Hoult’s performance is strong, this felt like an unnecessary detour in the core story of this battle between Edison and Westinghouse.
I was sent a digital copy of the film for review, which appears to include the same bonus material that can be found on the Blu-ray release. The film’s presentation looks and sounds great, with a solid, clean picture that captures a lot of detail, even in the darker scenes that are lit by candle light or incandescent bulbs. This is a very pretty and artistic film! The audio track provides clear dialogue, and captures all the ambiance, like the roars of speeding locomotives and the crackling of electricity. The film’s unique and captivating score also sounds beautiful. The digital release also includes 3 deleted scenes and an audio commentary by the director.
Specs may vary by digital provider
- 1080p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
- Movies Anywhere compatible
- Deleted Scenes (5:29)
Three deleted scenes. Play All, or select from:
- I’d Love to Meet Him (2:15)
George Westinghouse is holding a party where the discussion turns to Edison’s plans to light the world with his electricity, so Westinghouse asks Franklin Pope to set up a dinner meeting with the inventor.
- Are You a Preacher? (1:08)
Westinghouse explains his electric poles to a young boy, who initially thinks they resemble a crucifix.
- This is Costing Us a Fortune (2:06)
Westinghouse and his wife are discussing their money problems, and the possibility of dissolving Westinghouse Electric, but his wife doesn’t approve.
- I’d Love to Meet Him (2:15)
- Feature Commentary with Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (1:42:17)
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon provides an interesting commentary track. He discusses the casting, the characters, themes, the use of title cards, the Civil War flashbacks, and more. He also constantly talks about the changes that were made during the various edits of the film, and shares some interesting behind-the-scenes stories about production, discussing some of the technology used, and shooting the Westinghouse and Edison stories almost as two separate films. The director also briefly discusses the film’s unfortunate first screening at TIFF. The commentary seems to jump in mid-discussion, rather than having the director introduce himself ahead of time. There are also some gaps of silence in the commentary.
The Current War is a really fascinating look into the lives of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse as they wage the War of the Currents, which ultimately decided how we receive electricity to our homes today. The film features an amazing cast and performances. While I quite enjoyed the film overall, I think it could have used a little more editing s it feels a bit too long by the end. The digital release looks and sounds quite good, and includes a small selection of bonus material. This film is definitely worth a look for its interesting story and visual appeal, and Cumberbatch fans will certainly appreciate the actor in this role.