But don’t wait for streaming. It may sound hackneyed to say this, but Chung Chung-hoon‘s striking, ultra-widescreen compositions really need to be appreciated on a large screen. The bigger, the better.
The film was originally scheduled to be released on 12.22.17 by The Weinstein Company, and then the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein shut the whole project down. After 18 months of hibernation and reflection, The Current War was acquired last April by 101 Studios for $3 million. Gomez-Rejon has added five additional scenes and trimmed ten minutes from the runtime. It will open later this month (7.26) in the UK but not stateside until October.
The movie is basically an AC/DC thing — the battle between direct vs. alternating currents of electricity in the late 1880s and early 1890s, or a stab at creating compelling drama out of a battle of opposing modes and strategies for providing electricity to the public.
This in itself, especially in an era of increasingly downscale if not submental approaches to mass entertainment, is highly eccentric. But the tone of inspirational strangeness doesn’t end there.
The DC team was led by genius inventor Thomas A. Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) while the AC approach was steamrolled by engineer-businessman George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) with a late-inning assist from genius Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).
This is fine as far as histrionic line readings, personality conflicts and eccentric facial-hair appearances are concerned, but an especially striking visual style from South Korean dp Chung Hoon-Chung (It, The Handmaiden, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) compounds the fascination.
In an attempt to reflect the unusual, headstrong mentalities of Edison and Westinghouse, Gomez-Rejon and Chung have gone with a kind of early ’60s Cinerama approach to visual composition — widescreen images, wide-angle lenses and a frequent decision to avoid conventional close-ups and medium shots in favor of what has to be called striking if not bizarre avant-garde framings in which the actors are presented as smallish figures against dynamically broad images and vast painterly landscapes.
The look of The Current War, in short, closely resembles the extreme wide-angle compositions in 1962’s How The West Was Won.
This visual signature will constitute a huge draw for cinema dweebs, who will no doubt celebrate the audacious yesteryear novelty of such an approach, but average popcorn viewers are probably going to feel a tad confused and disoriented as they try to process what boils down to an experimental arthouse way of shooting a movie, and a curious historical biopic at that.
Gomez-Rejon and Chung deserve approval for choosing a highly unusual method of telling a story that — be honest — your average American moron is going to have very little interest in to begin with.
I can’t honestly say that the screenplay, penned by 34 year-old Michael Mitnick, really sang for me. It struck me as overly 21st Century in its adherence to certain colloquial signatures and attitudes, but at least it’s a dutiful, reasonably literate stab at an ornate subject that doesn’t exactly lend itself to dramatic convention.
I for one was excited and intrigued all through The Current War, but at the same time I was telling myself “this is great, fascinating stuff but it’s not gonna make a dime.” Cheers nonetheless to everyone involved.
If you want to dance through the saga of what history has generally referred to as “the war of currents”, here’s a Wiki page summary.