The Current War (2019)

[7.0]

Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon star as Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in this fascinating and fast-paced telling of the historic race to see whose electrical system would be the one showcased at the 1893 World’s Fair — and then implemented around the world. There’s a little character drama going on in The Current War, particularly with Edison’s family and the quirky nature of intervening collaborator Nikola Tesla (played by Nicholas Hoult), but the film is more focused on simply telling a true, fascinating story than serving up another beautifully polished costume flick with performances pleading for Oscars.

You may already know about the characters and events depicted here, but the movie helped me to more fully imagine what it was like before AC and DC electrical currents were invented, and how profound the light bulb’s impact on the world really was. The cutthroat race between Edison’s and Westinghouse’s companies was full of scandal and heartbreak. One of the film’s greatest moments is a third act climax inter-cutting the spectacular implementation of light at the World’s Fair with it’s more sinister use at the world’s first death-by-electrocution. It’s a great message to convey when we’re presently grappling with the duplicitous nature of the internet and social media.

Cumberbatch and Shannon have a great scene together near the end. The percussive score does wonders to keep the film moving, and there’s nothing typical about director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s staging and framing. I look forward to seeing more features from him in the future. With Tom Holland.

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