In the late 19th century, Thomas Edison attempts to popularise his form of electrical current as a power source in America. He is challenged by George Westinghouse who has developed his own system using an Alternating Current. As Edison decides to utilise underhand tactics against Westinghouse he faces challenges in his personal life. The arrival of Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) only further complicates the battle to electrify the continent.
Ultimately this is the story of men chasing success and abandoning their principles as they do. It’s principally a character-driven script, though sadly a post-production driven film. The cutting and scene compositions are designed to make Thomas Edison walking into a room and shaking a man’s hand as dynamic as possible. A more subdued approach may actually have lent the story more importance. It certainly would have cut down on the unintentional comedy. But as silly as the film may occasionally become, it certainly never becomes boring, even if we are denied entry to the inner depths of these characters.
This unfortunately detracts from the excellent performances throughout the film. Michael Shannon is the standout as the well-mannered and gently George Westinghouse, a man with no interest in the theatrics Edison uses to get ahead, but simply wants to build a better world. Shannon’s self-assured performance is even able to tame the camera as it is forced to stoically document his subdued demeanor. This is in contrast the bombast of Cumberbatch’s Edison. A fine turn, but perhaps a little familiar. Katherine Waterston is excellent, if underutilised, as Westinghouse’s driven wife. Tom Holland and Nicholas Hoult also do wonders with the screen time afforded them.
Coverage of this film has focused on its problematic production history and divergences from historical fact. Being unaware of either of these aspects perhaps helped me enjoy the film quite a bit. It’s imperfect, and often the cinematic flares are as distracting as they are engaging, but the pacing is great, the performances are excellent and it certainly believes in the importance of its story.