‘The Current War’: A movie about electricity with no spark

Avery Wohleb

For a movie about electricity, it certainly lacks a spark.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, “The Current War” is an attempt to tell the story of when two legendary inventors begin to clash. Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, rival creators and the two biggest names in the early electricity industry, battle to secure their spot as the best in the business.

Right from the start, the fluidity of the film is tarnished when abrupt scene editing and awkward camera angles become distracting. Although the cinematography is overall pleasant and consistent in tone, certain shots transition so frequently it leaves many scenes difficult to navigate. There are several moments where characters are awkwardly zoomed in on, which becomes unflattering and silly in a way that minimizes the importance of many scenes. The quick pace and unusual cinematography make the material hard to digest.

Shining through a messy narrative is a talented cast. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a dramatic performance as Edison, fully selling each aspect of the inventor’s broad emotional spectrum, which ranges anywhere from intense grief to triumph. Through each obstacle Edison faces­ — both as an inventor and a father — Cumberbatch is convincing and raw, partially making up for the jumbled plot crashing around him.

Michael Shannon does what he can as Westinghouse, a relatively dull character whose emotional capacity hardly extends beyond his bottled frustration. The film’s writing placed a strong emphasis on Westinghouse’s ability to remain calm under any circumstances. Despite his critical importance to the story, Westinghouse is ultimately an uninteresting character. Westinghouse seemed to exist in the plot for no purpose other than to be Edison’s rival, which is horribly invalidating to the legacy of a man who won the war of currents.

Tom Holland is able to bring some clarity to a movie that otherwise lacks it. Portraying Edison’s young secretary and personal confidant, Holland perfectly encapsulates a youthful energy while remaining perhaps the wisest character in the film. Embodying a sense of humanity that is otherwise absent, Holland sells his performance as a figure of humility, successfully contrasting the headstrong inventors who begin to lose sight of it.

The biggest flaw in the movie comes from its inability to clarify an already-complex time in history. The film lacks cohesive storytelling and instead focuses on several unnecessary subplots. Rather than emphasizing the primary story of Edison and Westinghouse’s competition over the mass distribution of electricity, the film veers off into stories of trade fairs and electric chairs that feel underdeveloped within the plot. By the final scenes, the movie feels like an attempt at reading an entire history textbook two hours before an exam and ultimately failing.

The soundtrack offered no help to the jumbled plot. Nearly every scene was accompanied by intense music, making it hard to distinguish which scenes were climactic within the film. For most of the two hours, it feels as though the movie is building to one pivotal moment that would merge the plots together, but ultimately the outcome is painfully underwhelming and unsuccessful.

Overall, the entertainment value of the movie is lost within a boring production. Frustrating to watch “The Current War” has the potential to be great but just isn’t, leaving audiences with a story about electricity with no stable current.