A good two years following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017 to a rather muted response, The Current War finally finds itself ready for release; or at least it’s created the illusion of being ready. Maybe that’s what it’s trying to create, a sense of illusion, a grand ruse, like the great vaudeville acts of the 19th century.
The problem is, Christopher Nolan already achieved this with The Prestige, his love letter to Nikola Tesla and magic. This isn’t The Prestige, it isn’t much, it’s more a reminder of the sticky fingers of Harvey Weinstein and just how long we’ve got to go before his legacy is laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Thomas Edison. We open on him revealing to an unsuspecting train of investors his new invention, electricity and the light bulb. This much to the chagrin of rival entrepreneur and professional piggy-backer George Westinghouse – a coasting Michael Shannon. And that’s it. The film consists of strangely cut sequences of the two formulating their successes, only for each to scupper one another.
If it was trying to deceive us, it may have succeeded. There’s the sense of the grandiose to the way in which cinematographer Chung-Hoon Chung shoots even the most mundane conversations, a disorientating level of Dutch angles and – often baffling – sweeping shots through corridors and staircases as if they’re trying to say something, anything to distract from what’s actually going on (of which very little does).
The cast gamely attempts to bring certain gravitas to what little they are given. There’s Cumberbatch, still holding on with that American accent you see in first year university productions of a Tennessee Williams playing off Tom Holland whose main personality trait is a late blooming moustache. Female characters – there are two – have little to do but play doting wife to their partner. Katherine Waterson at least plays up to Shannon’s conniving Westinghouse, Tuppence Middleton, playing wife to Edison, does just that.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rijon, who previously directed the Sundance charmer Me and Early and the Dying Girl, seems lost. Whilst lavishing the frame with star wattage, he struggles to tell anything resembling a story. Nothing about this film feels like it’s his. Previously, Weinstein came in and re-edited it, only for it to be shelved when it was revealed he was a lecherous pig. Scorsese and editing partner Thelma Schoonmaker have gamely attempted to re-edit it to little avail.
There is no cohesion to the story telling, with scene-to-scene feeling as if stuck together with a drying Pritt Stick. Characters appear and disappear with no regard to their whereabouts and the central “war” we’re supposed to be invested in manages only to be tedious.
Maybe a further re-edit could find something vaguely compelling, but in this current form, it’s about as limp, lame and flat as a bargain bin light bulb.
The Current War is out now!