Thomas Edison’s more than a figure in a history book- he was also a bit of a jerk, according to this film.
The Current War: Director’s Cut takes place in 19th century America and focuses on the dramatic competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse for who will win electrical market.
From the beginning of the film to the very end, this reporter did not feel like she was viewing a period piece. The character’s speech was similar to a 21st century cadence. The only differentiation were a few words or phrases that aren’t used in common day speech.
The film was also visually stunning, which one would expect from a movie partly about light. The costume and set decoration was beautifully period, but the cinematography was shot in a way that kept up with the fast paced style of the film, resembling modern day shots and angle.
These concepts were executed in a way that showcases the beautiful artistry that is present in the film, without causing it to fall into the stereotypical period piece dissociation.
Many characters in the film are based off of notable historical figures. However they are often represented two dimensionally in the history books- simply as an inventor and not as a full dimensional human.
The initial conflict of the film begins early on when Thomas Edison ( Benedict Cumberbatch) essentially stands up George Westinghouse’s (Michael Shannon) invitation to dinner. Edison is headed home from a meeting with J.P Morgan and The President of the United States. He is tired. There is a shot of his children sleeping on the train floor. His secretary Samuel Insull (Tom Holland) announces that they will be stopping for dinner in eight minutes. Edison says he refuses to stop.
Paralleling Edison’s journey is Westinghouse and his wife, Marguerite (Katherine Waterston), thoughtful preparation for the evening. They put presents out for Edison’s children, Dot and Dash, and head out to the train station to meet them in the dark winter night.
The two men come together for one brief moment in this opening sequence; when Edison’s train is passing Westinghouse on the station platform and the two glance at each other through Edison’s window. This is where the war is created.
Throughout the film Westinghouse is portrayed as a no nonsense type of guy who would rather be remembered for the good works he did, than the money he made. His dinner invitation to Edison was to discuss the creation of electricity in hopes that the two could work together.
Edison, the more famous of the two, is the film’s antagonist. He is short tempered, narrow minded, and hellbent on defeating Westinghouse no matter what it costs.
The audience is given equal insight to both men’s lives; their hopes, accomplishments, struggles. This approach of storytelling creates a ping pong like viewing experience, swaying the audience back and forth in who they’re wishing to win.
Nikolai Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) transcends both Edison’s and Westinghouse’s lives. The audience is first introduced to him while he’s at sea, traveling on a boat to America. Upon entering the country he takes a job working for Edison but by the end of the film he becomes Westinghouse’s partner.
The winner of the war is eloquently decided by who is chosen to power World’s Fair- Edison or Westinghouse with Tesla.
Piercing throughout the film is a wartime flashback that Westinghouse keeps recalling. The audience sees small, snippets of the sequence at a time that build on top of each other. First the rain, then Westinghouse on a horse in the rain, then Westinghouse in the rain with an opposing soldier pointing a gun at him. The flashbacks continues to build as present day Westinghouse naviates his challenges throughout the new electrical world, leading up to the moment where the audience finds out who won the World’s Faire.
Another plot point that is woven within the war, is the invention of the electric chair. Edison coercively uses the chair’s invention to propel him forward, but its creation ultimately becomes his demise.
The Current War: Director’s Cut released in theaters October 25th.
Photo courtesy of IMDB.