TIFF 2017: The Current War Is A Hyper-Stylized History Lesson

The Current War

Who’s Behind It

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, written by Michael Mitnick.

Who’s In It

Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston.

Who’ll Love It

History buffs, science buffs, and anyone with a passion for cinema at its most cinematic.

What’s It About

Late in the 19th century, Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) successfully tests the first light bulb. While this breakthrough has the potential to radically alter life on Earth, Edison isn’t quite ready to celebrate, as there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the distribution of electricity. While Edison explores the potential of direct current, rival George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) proposes another option, launching a rivalry that grows into a war.

Why You Should See It

As the above synopsis makes clear, the content of The Current War is historically important, but extremely dry. However, fans of bold visual filmmaking will be excited to learn that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (It, the films of Chan-wook Park) have delivered—with a major assist from production designer Jan Roelfs—one of the most visually ravishing films of the year. While the duo’s over-praised previous collaboration (Me and Earl) also features striking visuals, that grandiose imagery clashes with the film’s modest subject matter. The Current War is a better fit for Gomez-Rejon’s sensibility. The visuals appropriately express a sense of futuristic excitement, breaking through traditional ideas of what was possible in the late 19th century, both in reality and in the way this period is depicted onscreen.

Fans of The Prestige will recognize several parallels to that film (both deal with 19th century rivalries and feature Nikola Tesla as a key character), though anyone (ie. producer Harvey Weinstein) looking for the Oscar variety of prestige may be disappointed to discover that this is more eye-popping cult oddity than awards season crowd-pleaser. If you’re the kind of viewer that’s mostly driven by story and emotion, you may be disappointed—the characters are somewhat bland and the script is fuelled by information, not spontaneous reality—but the sheer bravado of the filmmaking will be more than enough to keep many eyes glued to the screen.

When You Can See It

Opens wide January 19, 2018. Check out the trailer below.