Combustible Celluloid
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With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland, Simon Manyonda, Stanley Townsend, Tuppence Middleton, Matthew Macfadyen, Conor MacNeill, Damien Molony, John Schwab, Louis Ashbourne Serkis
Written by: Michael Mitnick
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing/violent images, and thematic elements
Running Time: 107
Date: 10/25/2019

The Current War: Director's Cut (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Electric Blues

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), The Current War was one of the final victim's of Harvey Weinstein's scissors (and his sinister empire), and has been languishing on the shelf for two years. It was finally dusted off this year and met with devastating reviews, but then, thanks to help from Martin Scorsese, Gomez-Rejon was allowed to put together a "director's cut." That cut, too, has met with lukewarm reviews, perhaps thanks to the tainted nature of the whole enterprise. But to my eyes, The Current War: Director's Cut is a terrific film, vibrant and constantly crackling, like electricity.

It tells the story of Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) attempting to put his light bulb invention out into the world with the help of "direct current," which would require many, many power stations to generate safe power, underground, for short distances. Conversely, George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) wants to use "alternating current," which is considered slightly more dangerous, but far more cost-effective and efficient. These two giants use everything in their means, sometimes not entirely above-board, to try to gain the upper hand. Strangely, unexpectedly, the movie manages to subtly shift allegiances from one to the other as it goes. Nicholas Hoult co-stars as Nikola Tesla, briefly employed by Edison and finding himself constantly thwarted by money-men, but still pushing forward with an electromagnetic engine.

The story culminates in the 1893 Chicago Expo, which Gomez-Rejon shoots for a time like the climax of Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927), split into three screens. Indeed, the entire movie is shot with the gusto of other great movies about great men (Citizen Kane among them), with strange angles and momentum-generating cuts. Many reviews complained that the movie doesn't spend enough time with the characters, getting to know them, but that movie — a costume movie wherein people sit in rooms and talk — would have been boringly static and completely forgettable (not unlike Cumberbatch's polite biopic The Imitation Game). This movie is alive.

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