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The Current War, a film about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to develop the predominant electrical current (direct or alternating, respectively), had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
The film, which was directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and which The Weinstein Co. will release on Nov. 24, is a bit of a Rorschach test. On the one hand, it can be seen as self-serious, a dull history lesson, a by-the-numbers historical period piece that is almost comically designed to appeal to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (These criticisms are reflected in some of the early reviews of the film.)
On the other hand, so, too, to a degree, were The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game and any number of other previous Weinstein Co. — and, before that, Miramax — releases that the Academy did indeed ultimately embrace.
It’s true that, demographically, over the past few years, the Academy has begun to look very different than the Academy of, say, a decade ago, and the Academy also has recently embraced some films that the Academy of yesteryear probably would not have (e.g. Arrival, Mad Max: Fury Road, etc.). But that does not mean that the people who responded to more traditional films no longer have a voice — just that theirs is not the only one that gets heard.
What must be said of The Current War is that it has a certain prestige (its Oscar-nominated stars Benedict Cumberbatch, as Edison, and Michael Shannon, as Westinghouse, are no slouches), style (it does something interesting with its production design and visual effects that I can’t quite pinpoint) and romanticism (I heard more than a few “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as people learned certain things, like the way we came to have General Electric, etc., and the film wisely ends by bringing everything back to the movies).
I’m not saying that The Current War is going to dominate the rest of the season — just that people shouldn’t write it off because of a mixed critical response. The Weinsteins don’t sit out Oscar seasons; they make the most of them. And even if The Current War wouldn’t necessarily make it to the Oscars with any other distributor, it will be their pet project for the next five or six months — in addition to the August release Wind River, which attracted favorable reviews, but seems to have very little enduring buzz — and you can bet The Weinstein Co., even while not as flush as it’s been in the past, will take The Current War as far as it can go.
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