You’d expect a drama about three of the world’s most brilliant visionaries, Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla, and George Westinghouse, would make for a tedious bore of a movie. Such is not the case with “The Current War,” a film that manages to make history come alive in an epic story of competition, business sense, and celebrity that literally lit up the modern world in the late 1800s.
Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is on the verge of bringing electricity to New York with his groundbreaking technology: the DC current. On the eve of revealing his new creation to the world, along comes savvy businessman Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), a man who believes he and his partner Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) have designed an even better (and cheaper) way to light up America: the AC current.
The majority of the film spotlights the war of words and ideas between these titans of industry as they grapple for the power to advance the nation. Although the story is about one of the greatest corporate feuds in history, it’s not a stale retelling. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon keeps things flowing with a constantly moving camera, which makes even the most talky of scenes feel much more action-packed than they are. This film could easily be turned into a stage play, but the camerawork doesn’t make it feel too rigid.
Everything is crowded with details, and the script overindulges in a little too much dry historical material (overall the story could benefit from a bit of editing). In the end, this is a compelling tug of war story that remains engaging due to the film’s visual style and the strong performances from the lead actors.