by Ian Morton
Period dramas can be hit and miss at the box office. While the genre itself often leads the pack when it comes to awards season, the ones that fail to hit the mark are often the quickest to fade into obscurity. Like many before it, The Current War has a cast and premise that flickers with potential but never quite shines bright enough to light up the room.
Upon revealing the lightbulb to the world, a newly famous Thomas Edison finds himself quickly competing with rival, George Westinghouse, in the true life battle to power the US between direct and alternating current.
Having found previous success with 2015’s eerily cheerful, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon takes a bold step into unfamiliar territory as he jumps from one genre to another. Having seemingly found a niche in teen-drama, you have to give credit for his ballsy approach to tackle something new.
While it can be said that unfamiliarity can lead to great things – George Miller and his monumental jump from Happy Feet to Mad Max: Fury Road spring to mind – the result here is an air of uncertainty that infects just about every facet of production. This is a film that truly has no idea what it wants to be and in doing so, throws everything but the kitchen sink at the audience in the hopes that something might stick.
The implications for the story is that it’s barely able to catch its breath, stumbling between the main plot, weightless character interactions and VERY light footed flashbacks in an attempt to cover all bases. By the time you get to the end, it’s shocking (heh!) how little depth there is given the potential the film had in the first place.
These same issues can be found from a visual perspective also, jumping tracks at an unprecedented rate between the fleeting pace of a Guy Ritchie steampunk Sherlock Holmes introduction before succumbing to the solemn solitude of Christopher Nolans, The Prestige. As with the lack of depth in the story, the result here is that you become easily distracted by the erratic changes in visual style rather than fully giving yourself to what’s transpiring on screen.
What makes the film just about bearable however is the presence of an ever impressive cast. Benedict Cumberbatch proves to be the perfect choice as Edison, bringing the same intensity to the role as he 2014’s Imitation Game. Michael Shannon is excellent as Edison’s rival, Westinghouse and Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston, Tuppence Middleton, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Macfayden (accent notwithstanding) are more than adequate in supporting roles. Not only does this prove to be the films saviour, its also further proof that there is just way too much going on!
By the time the credits roll, it’s almost impossible to not feel some (if not, total) disappointment in the events of The Current War. While on paper it has a lot going for it, the film falls at the first hurdle, succumbing to pedestrian storytelling and a distinct lack of focus. While a decent cast does its raise an eyebrow, it sadly never amounts to anything more than absurdly average.
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