Review: Edison, Westinghouse can't light up dull 'Current War'

The film, repackaged after being shelved in 2017, is for history buffs only

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Talk about a power failure. 

"The Current War" is an overdirected, overstuffed curiosity whose journey to theaters is more involving than what's on screen.  

Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Current War."

The film was originally set to be released in 2017, but the Harvey Weinstein production was shelved when the multitude of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein surfaced. It was then sold to the Weinstein company's successor and later to distributor 101 Studios, which allowed director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon to recut and refashion the film, now being released as "The Current War: The Director's Cut." 

It's a juicy backstory that doesn't measure up to the final product, which follows the battle to bring electricity to the world in the late 1800s. 

Benedict Cumberbatch is Thomas Edison, an ego-driven showman whose brashness overpowers most in his path. Michael Shannon is George Westinghouse, a more reserved, practical man, who goes up against Edison in the war over electrical currents. Hanging around the periphery is Nicholas Hoult's Nikola Tesla, once an apprentice of Edison, brought into the fold here under the misconception that three big names are better than two. 

At the center of the struggle is the war between alternating current and direct current, which for all Gomez-Rejon's tilted angles, lens flares and visual razzmatazz isn't a concept that translates well visually. So he makes it a battle of personalities, and the script by Michael Mitnick doesn't give viewers a reason to invest.

The score is at times stirring but "The Current War" feels like it's unsure of itself or the story it wants to tell. It has no spark. 

'The Current War'


Rated PG-13: for some violent content and thematic elements

Running time: 101 minutes