“Don’t you think a fence is a unique creation?” asks a fictionalized Thomas Edison of George Westinghouse. The two 19th-century rivals stand in the swirling crowds of Chicago’s World Fair. “A neighbor puts it up and suddenly one becomes two.”
Westinghouse understands Edison’s jab and shakes his head. “I didn’t take your idea.”
The marvel of electricity. The advent of a new era. Both sizzle in this movie that illuminates the change brought by harnessing electricity.
But the excitement wasn’t without bitter strife. In this historical drama, Edison, the self-educated genius inventor, whom we must thank for bulbs and motion pictures, embarked on a smear campaign against Westinghouse. Their actual rivalry was named “the war of currents.”
As one committed to nonviolence, Edison eschewed creating an invention that would harm. But the uses of electricity devolved. What about using it for a humane form of capital punishment, asks a tall stranger of Edison. And with the question devolves some more the principles of the genius inventor.
The film is artful. The visuals are postmodern, compelling. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is known for being artful and deep. He served as second unit director on past films that collected top talent like Julie & Julia, Argo, and Eat Pray Love.
The character studies, too, are intriguing. The acting by Benedict Cumberbatch (Edison) and Michael Shannon (Westinghouse)? Masterful. Cumberbatch is, of course, known as the BBC’s Sherlock while Shannon has received much credit, too, as best actor in films like Revolutionary Road. He was especially convincing as Westinghouse, a man of honor with a slow blink here, a long stare there.
Other talent includes Nicholas Hoult as inventor Nikola Tesla and Matthew Macfayden as financier J.P. Morgan.
The 2017 film, produced by Harvey Weinstein, was shelved because of his legal issues and finally released in 2019. That’s why we missed it. And unfortunately, reviewers blasted the initial film that Gomez-Rejon then revised into the director’s cut version.
I differ in my response. I found this film showing the sad strife of Edison’s need to be first a worthy and satisfying story. In fact, this is one haunting film I’ll look forward to seeing again—and soon. (Lantern Entertainment, Amazon Prime, Hulu)