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“The Current War: Director’s Cut” Gives This Biopic A Second Chance

It’s rare that a movie gets a new lease on life without having to become a cult classic. About two years ago, The Current War made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, hoping to be a major Oscar player for The Weinstein Company. However, a combination of middling reviews, the lack of a budget for an Oscar campaign, and of course, the fall of Harvey Weinstein, contributed to the flick sitting on the shelf. Now, with a new cut and a new distributor, the project is seeing the light of day, rechristened as The Current War: Director’s Cut. Most who have seen both versions declare this a vast improvement, but is it worth your time? Read on to find out!

The film is an historical drama as much as it is a biopic, focused on a battle of wills between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, with Nikola Tesla caught in the middle. At the time, Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a celebrity inventor, one who is on the verge of bringing electricity to Manhattan with his radical new DC technology, much to the delight of the masses. As he’s preparing for a massive victory, his plans are run aground by the charismatic businessman Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), who has Edison’s former partner Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), on his payroll. They believe they have a better idea in regards to how to best get America electricity, utilizing AC current instead of DC. Thus begins a wrangling for control of bringing electrical currents to the masses. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directs a screenplay by Michael Mitnick, with cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, while the duo of Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran composed the score. Supporting players include Tom Holland, Matthew Macfadyen, Tuppence Middleton, Katherine Waterston, and more.

Having not seen The Current War in its former incarnation, I can only judge this Director’s Cut, and it still seems like a movie trying to find its identity. Michael Mitnick’s script just goes through the motions, reliant on strong performances to carry the day. Luckily, helmer Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (whose visual style is sometimes a help, sometimes a hinderance) has that from Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon. However, the former is just sort of making Edison a non superhero Doctor Strange, while the latter loses a lot of his quirky edges as Shannon. They’re good, but don’t elevate the flick. Then, there’s a wholly miscast Nicholas Hoult, along with a completely wasted Katherine Waterston (the same goes for Tom Holland, beyond making one think of Marvel when he shares scenes with Cumberbatch). It just never all comes together in a fully satisfying way.

The Current War: Director’s Cut starts off pretty engagingly, but that momentum wears off quickly. After the first fifteen minutes or so, the next 90 become a bit of a slog. Periodically, there’s something interesting, but largely, it isn’t until the final scene that your attention is grabbed again. Frankly, Gomez-Rejon and Mitnick make a miscalculation here, teasing out an even more interesting story that they never opt to tell. That makes for a frustrating end, when it should be a compelling/moving one.

This Friday, anyone who was bummed that The Current War wound up on the shelf a few years ago can rest easy. It’s not 2017, but here in 2019, The Current War: Director’s Cut is about to hit screens. If you were desperately curious about this flick, you now will have the opportunity to bear witness to it. Cumberbatch fans will be satisfied, while all others probably less so. As far as historical epics go, it’s not quite a stuffy one, but it does still leave you wanting more…

The Current War: Director’s Cut hits theaters this weekend.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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