‘Cur­rent War: Di­rec­tor’s Cut’ stokes in­ter­est

The Korea Times - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

Two years ago at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, a movie about Thomas Edi­son, Ge­orge West­ing­house, Nikola Tesla and, for a cli­max, the daz­zling il­lu­mi­na­tion of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, failed ut­terly to ig­nite the movie world.

En route to its pre­miere, “The Cur­rent War” met with more than the usual amount of uber-med­dling from dis­trib­u­tor Har­vey We­in­stein of The We­in­stein Com­pany. A few weeks af­ter the Toronto fes­ti­val, the New York Times pub­lished the first his­tory-mak­ing story by Jodi Kan­tor and Me­gan Twohey de­tail­ing a gath­er­ing storm of sex­ual as­sault and se­rial ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein. Af­ter decades of one mogul’s pre­da­tion and dozens of ac­tresses’ ma­ligned and sucker-punched ca­reers, sud­denly, that was that. The un­re­leased “Cur­rent War,” mean­time, went into turn­around and be­came an as­ter­isk.

Now there is a di­rec­tor’s cut of “The Cur­rent War,” al­ready re­leased in Eng­land, fea­tur­ing newly shot footage, var­i­ous cuts, re-or­der­ings and ad­di­tions, a new mu­si­cal score and a 10-min­utes-shorter run­ning time. I never saw the ear­lier ver­sion. This one re­mains a bit of a mess but a pretty in­ter­est­ing one, as well as one of the few films this year de­serv­ing (in both ad­mirable and dis­sat­is­fy­ing ways) of the ad­jec­tive “in­struc­tive.”

Di­rec­tor Al­fonso Gomez-Re­jon (“Me and Earl and the Dy­ing Girl”) sweats like crazy to vis­ually en­er­gize a story largely about al­ter­nat­ing cur­rent ver­sus di­rect cur­rent, em­bod­ied by the driven, com­pet­i­tive but very dif­fer­ent in­ven­tors and in­dus­tri­al­ists at the story’s cen­ter.

The fic­tion­al­ized his­tory cov­ered by “The Cur­rent War” takes place in the last two decades of the 19th century. Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch stews and fur­rows his way through the role of the per­pet­u­ally dis­tracted Edi­son, in a per­for­mance more con­cerned with in­te­rior ten­sion than au­di­ence love. Un­kempt and in­creas­ingly un­scrupu­lous in his com­pet­i­tive tac­tics, Edi­son also lives in the shadow of per­sonal tragedy.

With the some­time as­sis­tance of the bril­liant Ser­bian-born Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), Edi­son scores a con­spic­u­ous early vic­tory in the elec­tri­cal race by light­ing up a good chunk of New York City with his di­rect cur­rent. His wily but fair-minded com­peti­tor is West­ing­house (Michael Shan­non, re­mind­ing the world he can play sub­tle and in­trigu­ing men of hon­or­able char­ac­ter), boast­ing the more ef­fi­cient al­ter­nat­ing cur­rent sys­tem.

As “The Cur­rent War” pro­ceeds, West­ing­house’s com­pany pow­ers more and more of the out­ly­ing na­tion, away from Man­hat­tan’s bright lights. And while the movie lacks a con­ven­tional struc­ture — it’s based on a mu­si­cal play that screen­writer Michael Mit­nick wrote in grad school at Yale — the third act con­cerns who will win the con­tract to il­lu­mi­nate the 1893 World’s Columbian Ex­po­si­tion in Chicago.

West­ing­house was, by most ac­counts, an un­usu­ally pro­gres­sive and hu­mane in­dus­trial giant, cred­it­ing his en­gi­neers and in­ven­tors by name in his com­pany’s many patents. Edi­son, by con­trast, led with his ego­cen­tric be­lief in self-brand­ing and put his name on ev­ery­thing. “The Cur­rent War” may be tough on Edi­son, prop­erly, but it’s a bet­ter movie be­cause of it.

(Chicago Tribune/ Tribune News)

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