The battle over DC versus AC and the race to wire the country with electricity is the basis of The Current War, the latest film from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl).
The Production: 3.5/5
It is the year 1880. Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has perfected a light bulb that can last 13 hours on Direct Current (DC) electricity, with investors lined up, cash in hand. Edison travels with his family to Washington D.C., meeting with the President in hopes to wire the nation with DC, instead being offered a contract to build weapons. Rejecting the idea, Edison returns home, forgoing a planned dinner date with George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), leaving the entrepreneur in a cloud of steam at the train station. While Edison goes forward with his plans to wire up two blocks of Manhattan with DC, Westinghouse sees more potential in Alternating Current as a cheaper and more efficient means of providing electricity to homes. There’s just one problem – while DC can power motors like sewing machines, AC has yet to be tamed to provide power safely. Edison latches on to that notion, publicly stating the dangers of AC, going so far as to test Westinghouse’s AC generators on animals to show just how deadly AC can be. Enter Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), a Serbian immigrant inventor and electrical engineer who believes he can tame AC for industrial use in motors.
Cumberbatch is brilliant as the work-obsessed Edison, a man who barely pauses to mourn the death of his beloved wife, instead more interested in cranking out the next new invention while his company teeters on financial ruin, despite frequent cash injections by J.P. Morgan (Matthew Macfayden). Tom Holland has a nice supporting role as Edison’s personal secretary Samuel Insull. Michael Shannon is also very good as George Westinghouse, a man not afraid to throw money and resources at something he strongly believes in, but also has a guilty conscious from a Civil War incident that continues to drive his moral compass. The Current War is a good film, and possibly could have been better if it had been made at another studio. Originally shot in 2016, it was hastily cobbled together by Harvey Weinstein to premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, to which it received disastrous reviews. The film then got entangled in the liquidation of The Weinstein Company, sitting on a shelf for nearly two years before it found a new home at 101 Studios, with some help from Executive Producer Martin Scorsese. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was then allowed to conduct some reshoots and recut the film with editor David Trachtenberg, receiving a theatrical release in October 2019. Unfortunately, I felt the movie got too bogged down in the capital punishment subplot.
3D Rating: NA
Since Blu-rays were unavailable to review due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Universal did send me a Movies Anywhere code to redeem a digital HD copy of the film. Digital can be tricky to review, as there are several factors involved that can cause issues beyond the viewers control, such as internet traffic and bandwidth, the encode a particular digital retailer is using, and how that encode performs on that retailer’s app on various streaming devices. I eventually screened the film on the Vudu app on my Roku Streaming Stick+, and was quite pleased with the results. There was minimal banding and compression issues on Vudu, the worst being the opening shot of Edison standing in a snow storm (of the various samples on other streaming services and devices, Vudu had the least compression artifacts). Black levels were quite good, with minimal crushing while still capable of providing good shadow detail. Take a look at Edison’s black suit at the 6:05 mark – you can clearly see a checkerboard pattern in the fabric. Although the movie seems to have a subtle sepia tone throughout, colors are still vibrant without appearing oversaturated, with accurate flesh tones. Detail is very good, from fabric textures (as previously stated) to the bumps and disfiguration in J.P. Morgan’s nose.
Nearly ever digital retailer offers Dolby Digital+ 5.1 audio (the exception being the Apple TV app on Roku, which only offers Dolby Digital 5.1). This is a robust track for what is essentially a drama. Surrounds are used effectively, even early on with the howling wind of the snowstorm or the sudden application of brakes on the train. LFE is also robust, adding emphasis to said brakes and other similar types of sounds. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.
Special Features: 1/5
I really should rate this at 0, since the only way to access the special features is via the Apple TV app on an Apple TV device.
Audio Commentary with Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon: This is a rather informative track, as the director discusses some of the changes made after the disappointing premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and other behind the scenes info like shooting locations, concepts explored, etc.
Deleted Scenes (1080p; 5:29): Three scenes are included – I’d Love to Meet Him, Are You a Preacher? and This Is Costing Us a Fortune.
The Current War is an interesting movie about a more fascinating topic, but gets bogged down in the middle with a subplot on capital punishment that it almost doesn’t recover from.