ThinkMovies: Review – The current war

ThinkMovies: Review – The current war

by Alan Grant
article from Saturday 17, August, 2019

AS THE ONLY real superpower left on the planet, the United States of America is a legitimate target for criticism. Given the level of influence that all things American have on life in the rest of the West, and further afield, there is nothing wrong with a critique of it and, in the age of Trump, there are no shortage of hot takes on everything that the less-American parts of the world see as being wrong with the good ole U-S-of-A, to say nothing of the scathing take-downs that come from within the country itself.

However, while those “boo Yankees!” takes in movies and other media are valuable, American History XAmerican Psycho, and Team America: World Police all being great examples among many more available, there is something to be said for a movie that finds something to like in its Americanness and actually feels like waving a little bit of the Stars and Stripes for a while. Patriotic American movies of the past include Rocky, Miracle,Black Hawk Down, and American Sniper have all shown that the good side of the states can make great cinema.

The Current War, which tells the story of the ‘war of the currents’ between Thomas Edison and the team of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla to see who could be the first to bring electricity to the US, is one such movie and it’s a pretty fun experience for it.

It’s very well cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch excelling as Thomas Edison. Quite how Cumberbatch became the go-to actor for roles that require enough genius to be admirable and anti-social enough to be just a little unlikable (his roles in SherlockStar Trek Into Darkness, and The Imitation Game spring to mind) is anyone’s guess but it’s a good thing because he’s excellent in those roles. So too are Michael Shannon and Nicholas Hoult who play opposite Cumberbatch as Westinghouse and Tesla. Hoult’s performance is interesting in particular as we see a slightly more human and approachable Tesla, rather than the enigmatic nutter he is often shown to be.

It’s directed very well by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who gives his characters enough to play with but balances their contributions well to show that this is a story about a time in history rather than about one man. Additionally, a few of the artistic choices are especially memorable – including the opening sequence in which Cumberbatch’s Edison surprises a group of well-to-do American ladies and gents in a field with his new invention. The story flows and the pacing is great; with all the events pointing towards the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the audience knows there’s an end-point to the movie, which helps it feel tight and well-managed.

There are some poor choices made to be sure; Cumberbatch just can’t seem to get a proper grip on his American accent, which swings wildly enough to be noticeable, as does Hoult’s Serbian accent. While bringing light to darkness is also an obvious theme of the movie, parts of The Current Warare so dark as to genuinely occlude what is happening on screen. Moreover, the musical choices are a bit drab and formulaic – this is not one for Spotify!

The Current War is one of the more difficult films I’ve had to review for Think Movies because, well, it’s fine. It’s ok. There’s nothing super wrong with it and where it does stumble, there are aspects that excuse that stumbling. Because it’s a perfectly acceptable, competently put together, period-piece bit of Oscar-bait there’s not an awful lot that can be said about it either in specifics or in the broader cultural sense. As I said… it’s fine.

In fact, it is only that matter of cultural enthusiasm that allows it to stand-out from anything else in theatres currently. The positivity that The Current War shows towards commerce, technology, energy, and the great (if flawed) minds that harness them as part of the American experience is refreshing and that it portrays it without once venturing into jingoism or nationalism is doubly so. After all, why shouldn’t this period and what it means to America be celebrated in the art form in which Americans lead the world, which is also subtly alluded to in the movie, the motion picture?

So, that is why this edition of Think Movies is a little shorter than the others of late. There’s nothing really to get outraged or super-passionate about in The Current War and so it’s very hard to avoid slapping it with the catch-all and ultimately useless, “if you liked x, you’ll like this” sticker and knocking off for lunch. However, that is what has to happen. So, if you liked stuff like The King’s Speech or Shakespeare in Love, and you don’t have a huge amount of hate in your heart for the United States of America, then you’ll probably like this, but don’t feel you have to rush to the multiplex to see it.

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