It seems uncanny that The Current War is a film about the battle for power. A historical drama, it is set in a time when the world was ushering in the modern age – the "power" in question is electricity. And the protagonists? American inventor and innovator, and the man credited with inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison, and entrepreneur George Westinghouse, a fellow American pioneer of the late 19th and early 20th century, who was equally determined to bring electricity to the masses.
"It's about these amazing men, this massive miscommunication and egos," Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Edison, told Interview magazine. "It resulted in the missed opportunity of [a] collaboration unlike any other." The conflict of the title refers to the bitter rivalry and a PR campaign laden with dirty tricks waged by Edison, who vouches for Direct Current (DC), and Westinghouse, played by Michael Shannon, who is a proponent for Alternating Current (AC).
What took so long for the film to come out
Arriving almost two years after its unveiling at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, this thematic tussle for supremacy has become increasingly potent. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a rising star in the American indie scene fresh off 2016's Sundance prize-winner Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, the film marks one of the last major productions by The Weinstein Company and the now-disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, currently awaiting trial in New York on charges of rape and sexual assault. Known for his incessant tinkering with films, frequently locking directors out of the editing suite, the reputation of the man dubbed Harvey "Scissorhands" went before him.
Many an acclaimed director, ranging from Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) to Zhang Yimou (Hero), has fallen foul of the former Miramax co-founder.
As Gomez-Rejon told Deadline: "People warned me to be careful and I was determined to not be another casualty." But being adamant that something won't happen doesn't always make it so.
Famed for pushing his films during awards season, Weinstein instructed the young director to finish the film in time for the all-important launch platform at Toronto. After all, he not only had two former Oscar nominees as his leading men, in the shape of Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and Shannon (Revolutionary Road), but a supporting cast including Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man), as Edison's assistant, and Mad Max: Fury Road's Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, the Serbian engineer who was instrumental in designing the AC electrical system.
Rushing the edit and sound mix, "I knew in my heart, and every fibre of my body was saying, it's not ready," said Gomez-Rejon, who "felt like an idiot" when he finally saw it with a festival crowd. Despite Weinstein positioning the film for a prime November 2017 release, suggesting confidence in The Current War, the Toronto screening fizzled."Temporary flash providing too little illumination," punned industry trade paper Variety, a sentiment echoed in many of the lacklustre reviews. Weinstein's history of shelving flop films doubtless preyed on its director's mind. Within weeks, however, events overtook The Current War, as The New York Times's in-depth report about Weinstein's misconduct (he has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex) sent shock waves through the industry. As others, including actor Kevin Spacey, also faced accusations of predatory behaviour, Hollywood began to take a long look at itself.
Movements like #MeToo and TimesUp were established to protect those hitherto vulnerable in the industry from further sexual harassment. And The Current War? It was pulled from its November release slot and forgotten. While nobody – certainly not Gomez-Rejon – is saying that the fate of his film is more important than the plight of the 80-plus women who accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape, he was still desperate to see his film reach an audience. But how?
Making changes so the film could get its release
The Weinstein Company filed for bankruptcy, with Lantern Entertainment eventually acquiring it among other assets during auction. Then, a year on, Russian producer / director Timur Bekmambetov – whose company Bazelevs first acquired Michael Mitnick’s script back in 2012 – bankrolled Gomez-Rejon to re-work the film.
The director shot five new scenes, gathering together cast members for one day at a farmhouse in England to swiftly recreate various settings. Despite this additional footage, he delivered a cut 10 minutes shorter than the original Toronto-screened effort. A new score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans completed the film's refurbishment. Released in the UK last month, it arrives in the UAE this week before hitting American screens in October. The usual red carpet fanfare that comes with the release of such a prestige project will no doubt be absent.
But for Gomez-Rejon, bringing The Current War to screens in a version approximating his original vision for Mitnick's script must be considered something of a victory. "Everything missing is there now, including the right pacing that escalates the tension between these two men [Edison and Westinghouse]," he explained to Deadline. "The heart of the film is restored." If there is some truth to that – a shift in the balance of power, you might say – the scars are still visible for a film that will always be tarred by its association with Harvey Weinstein.
The Current War will be in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday, August 15