The Current War (2017)
The Current War had a circuitous journey to the big screen. After premiering to mixed reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was shelved for two years as a consequence of the Weinstein scandal. A Director’s Cut was finally released in 2019, and though most critics agreed that the new version was an improvement, many of the film’s original issues remained. Despite impressive groundwork being laid by an intriguing story and fine performances, the film frustratingly fails to stick the landing.
1880. A locomotive’s lights pierce the darkness as it approaches Thomas Edison’s laboratory at Menlo Park. Waiting for the payload of investors to disembark, the inventor stands in the middle of display of incandescent lightbulbs, confident of the finance his direct current method of electrical distribution will procure. Elsewhere, industrialist George Westinghouse is betting his fortune on alternate current. Cheaper and more effective in providing light, its major shortcoming is an inability to power a motor. As Edison launches a propaganda campaign against the dangers of AC, Westinghouse looks for a means to overcome its limitations. Enter Nikola Tesla.
Serving somewhat as a circuit breaker in this power struggle, Tesla is nevertheless little more than a supporting player in The Current War. However the story’s main protagonists, Westinghouse and Edison, rarely come face to face. Instead, their battles are fought in the press, with Westinghouse trying to maintain the moral high ground while Edison’s claims become more outlandish and desperate. Though this may be historically correct, as there is no record of the two men meeting, from a dramatic standpoint it subdues the conflict. This reaches its inevitable conclusion at the World's Exposition in Chicago, where the consequences of victory are dutifully explained yet result in an anti-climactic victory.
What The Current War does succeed in doing is present a complex story of science, industry and finance without ever patronising its audience. It's an informative film, it just lacks a certain spark.
as Thomas Edison
The character of Southwick Brown is an amalgam of Alfred Southwick, who invented the electric chair, and Harold Brown, an activist who campaigned against the use of alternating current.
Movie concludes with Edison filming and viewing a motion picture after advising Westinghouse “I'm working on something now, something so new that people will forget I was ever associated with electricity.”