The Current War (film on BookMyShow Stream); Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Katherine Waterston, Tom Holland; Direction: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
Fiction demands willing suspension of disbelief, and that’s from long before humankind discovered electricity. “The Current War” is pitched as a historical drama that introduces a few plot points that have been debated by experts — chief among them being a couple of meetings between the film’s protagonists, Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), shown in the film. Many argue there is no documented evidence the two ever met.
You could counter that, of course, arguing there is no documented evidence to the contrary either. And in any case, never mind that the film is pitched as historical drama, we understand that history has never really been Hollywood’s strongest subjects. We will take the War with a pinch of salt.
The problem lies elsewhere. What must have seemed like a spark of an idea on paper, merely manages to flicker as the plot gets going. One isn’t sure if it is because screenwriter Michael Mitnick, originally a playwright, was trying to adopt a narrative style more suited for the stage. The fact that most of the film (owing to its storyline) is shot indoors also doesn’t help.
The setting is America of the 1880s. Cumberbatch’s Thomas Alva Edison has successfully lighted up Manhattan with electric power. Edison’s rival George Westinghouse (Shannon) must switch to catering electric current beyond his primary business of generating light out of gas, if he has to survive. A battle for supremacy awaits, over who will ultimately power the nation.
The ‘war’ also refers to the conflicting scientific philosophies, pertaining to the mode of distributing electricity each preferred. Edison advocates direct current (DC) but Westinghouse is not impressed. He wants to propagate alternating current (AC).
“The Current War” uses that slice of history to narrate what is today regarded as one of the most significant corporate wars on Earth. Yet, the storytelling sorely lacks energy, and the power to engage. Which seems ironic if you sample the stellar cast at hand, and also the fact that the film is an Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directorial that boasts of Martin Scorsese (along with Cumberbatch himself) among its executive producers and Timur Bekmambetov as a producer. These are heavyweights, expected to pull something special out of the hat every time.
Most viewers would primarily be interested in the film seeing the cast. Toplined by Cumberbatch and Shannon in great form, and with understated assists from Nicholas Hoult (as Westinghouse’s associate Nikola Tesla) and Tom Holland (as Samuel Insull, the man widely credited for creating the electricity infrastructure in America), the cast is a delight to watch.
Yet, all the good acting cannot avert attention from the fact that the film overall never quite manages to connect.
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