“The Current War” almost never saw the light of day, but thanks to legendary director Martin Scorsese. The film has been released in a rare director’s cut and earns it’s right to be the years most Oscar nominated film. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and editors David Trachtenberg and Justin Krohn pace the film like a thriller and moves quicker than a flip of the light switch. I would go as far to say that this is the best film of the year and the must see film of the year, that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has succeeded in two things with his film “The Current War”. One was bringing his film to theaters after being shelved and nearly dead and buried from it’s original release date, two years ago. Secondly it’s no easy feat to make a subject matter like the invention of electricity compelling in cinematic form.
But Alfonso is no ordinary and typical filmmaker, as his vision is on full display in “The Current War: The Directors Cut”. Now if you have been seeing the marketing material for the movie you’ll notice that it’s been advertised as the “Directors Cut”. A rare occurrence for a film to be released in theaters under that banner as you usually have to wait for the hard media to see a films “Directors Cut”.
“The Current War” is being released as the directors cut, because after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago. It’s release was put on hold and lost on a shelf, after the atrocious screenings at the Toronto Film Festival and because of Harvey Weinstein, who was the distributor of the film was slammed with sexual accusations. The version shown at the festival was re-cut by Weinstein as a two and a half hour draggy period drama.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was not happy with this version and firmly stood by declaring that this was not his vision for the film. Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese came on as a producer and literally saved the production and from the film getting scrapped for good, as he was to make sure Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was able to release the version he intended. Therefore is how we are getting the release of his directors cut in theaters.
I have not seen the films original studio cut, but Alfonso’s intended version is the exact kind of film that deserves the 12-14 Oscar nomination treatment. “The Current War” deserves it all: Best Picture, Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Cinematography. This is THE MUST SEE film of the year, that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I’m going to see this again in theaters as soon, as humanly possible.
“The Current War” is set firmly in stone as one of my top five films of the year. Right alongside “Rocketman”, “Joker”, “The Public” and my yet undecided fifth film. Most biographical period piece stories play it safe, tends to drag the story out and goes for the more artsy side of cinema. Alfonso instead hires editors David Trachtenberg and Justin Krohn, as they pace the film like a thriller or an action film. It moves quicker than a flip of the light switch. “The Current War” has dynamic camerawork and editing.
The three major players we follow through the film is: Thomas Alva Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” and “Doctor Strange”), entrepreneur and engineer George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon “Man Of Steel” and “Revolutionary Road”), and visionary Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult “Warm Bodies” and “Mad Max Fury Road”). Also in the mix is Edison’s assistant Samuel Insull (“Spider-Man” star Tom Holland) and one of the wealthiest men in the world, J.P. Morgan (Matthew McFayden “Pride & Prejudice”).
At the center of Edison and Westinghouse’s battle is the fight over what kind of electricity will be used. Edison’s lower voltage direct current (DC), which was safer but more limited in range. The Tesla/Westinghouse alternating current (AC), which travelled over longer distances and was powerful enough to fuel machinery as well as light bulbs. It was also more dangerous and potentially fatal. The war between Edison and Westinghouse, builds to one event that would forever change our future; the lighting of the 1893 World’s Fair.
The Oscar worthy script by Michael Mitnick packs a lot of developments and details into the story, from the illness of Edison’s wife to the shifting loyalties and various strategic maneuvers (both legal and illegal). His script goes even as complex as the engineering specs for the various contraptions invented by Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla.
The script delves into the creation of the electric chair. A lot focuses on Edison who had developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording (phonograph) and motion pictures (motion picture camera) and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb that have had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world. “The Current War: Director’s Cut” places the human drama in the midst of the cultural and technological shifts and shows us how they affect and are affected by each other.
The on-screen talent is one of the years best cast of actors. Benedict Cumberbatch (also the Executive Producer) is terrific as Edison, as he calls to mind his Oscar nominated performance in 2014’s “The Imitation Game”. His performance here is also Oscar worthy. It’s a complicated role as we must feel sympathy for the complex and not always honest inventor, husband and father. While he makes a few seriously unethical choices, but his love for his family helps humanize him.
Michael Shannon, an actor who always brings a gravitas to every role he inhabits, ably brings an understanding to the role of George Westinghouse. Even though it focuses on both men, this is Benedict Cumberbatch’s film all the way. The story could have easily been treated as a straight forward and obvious artsy draggy biography. Instead it’s just so damn riveting.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and Oscar worthy cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung present an exciting, and electric, portrayal of the events and characters that led to one of the most important modern inventions to date. “The Current War: The Directors Cut” is a stylishly and gorgeously shot big screen feature. Beautifully photographed, the film paints some of the most impressive imagery that you are likely to see this year. It also helps that the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns adds a unique mix of modern electronic sounds with a hint of classical thrown in.
Vivid, compelling characters, smart and witty dialogue is only a fraction of what is so great about “The Current War”. It creates a vivid and fascinating look at the battle to bring the invention of power and lights to the general public. As a movie buff, I’m so thankful the filmmaker had the opportunity to present his vision of this incredible time in history. Running at just over an hour and forty-five minutes, “The Current War” is perfect the way it is, being presented as the directors intended vision.
I hope those that saw the film in its earlier chopped up form will give this new version a look. I can even go as far as saying that “The Current War: Directors Cut” is this year’s best film.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)