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In 2017, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s initial cut of The Current War hit that year’s festival scene, but was ultimately pulled from public release as part of the fallout involving a company-ending scandal with its distributor, The Weinstein Company. In the two years since that initial cut, the film underwent a transformation that allowed Rejon to ultimately craft The Current War: Director’s Cut, a final product closer to his initial vision than what was previously premiered. While this historical epic certainly has flashes of brilliance and is easy enough to engage with as a viewer, however, there’s not enough substance to make it a truly satisfying experience.
Based on the true story involving the “war of the currents” between inventor Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), The Current War: Director’s Cut is all about the very public battle that was waged between the former's Direct Current method of electrical delivery, and the latter's Alternating Current. As the two men fought for their side of history to prevail, rumors and scandal lead to a field day that saw both parties race to claim as much territory in the market as possible, with no tactics off the table.
As a historical tale of intrigue and smear campaigns, you’d think that The Current War: Director’s Cut would have no issue sculpting a captivating narrative. That’s not so much the case when it comes to this particular project, however, as the film fails to strike a perfect balance of pacing and exposition. The problems show themselves early on, as the first act to this narrative flies by with such fleet footing, I started to question just how much had truly happened throughout that period of the film.
Without a firm foundation allowing audiences to understand Alternating versus Direct Current, and the historical precedent that led to the events of the story, we’re basically at the mercy of writer Michael Mitnick’s characters to telling us instead of showing us what’s going on and why it means so much.
That’s not a total loss, as the cast of The Current War: Director’s Cut does put their best foot forward to puff up the film’s rather anemic structure. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Thomas Edison comes off as more of a tortured genius, rather than the historical tyrant that modernity has portrayed him as, which is in perfect contrast to Michael Shannon's turn, in which is possibly his gentlest role as the more forward thinking humanitarian George Westinghouse.
Even with that clash of ideologies there aren't enough stakes presented in that conflict to make The Current War: Director’s Cut a totally engrossing affair. This is even more muddled when taking into account the story of Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), which could have been spun off into its own film and served a bigger purpose than further distracting from the already fractured narrative that’s presented in this biopic.
As meager as the story may be, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s eye for visual and musical flare does make up for some of The Current War’s flaws. One of the changes to this new version was the musical score, which does manage to infuse the film with a bit of the pulse that the action on screen lacks. Isolated moments of visual splendor, such as a sequence set at the Chicago World’s Fair, are utterly captivating to the point where you can see what the better version of this film is supposed to feel like.
It’s those pieces of the puzzle that is The Current War: Director’s Cut that are most promising. With a meatier narrative to match the style in its best scenes, we might have had a movie worth talking about after a two year wait. Seeing the finished product not only makes me want to see the festival cut and compare, bit it makes me wish this film could get another script pass in the name of a more substantial remake. If you’ve been anticipating The Current War: Director’s Cut after an extended period of retooling, you may find your expectations met.