2017 Awards Profile: ‘The Current War’ from The Weinstein Company

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The Current War
*FIRST LOOK* Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison CR: The Weinstein Co.

Welcome to the 2017 Awards Profile series, where we talk about high- and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not, either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next few weeks, we will bring you a film every Monday and Wednesday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

FILM: “The Current War”
PRODUCERS: Adam Ackland, Garrett Basch, Michael Mitnick
DISTRIBUTOR: The Weinstein Company

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
WRITER: Michael Mitnick

CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Katherine Waterston, Michael Shannon, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): Electricity titans Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse compete to create a sustainable system and market it to the American people.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED: The Academy certainly likes a good biopic. But how about three biopics rolled into one? Every elementary school student can tell you that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. But most don’t know the whole story. Along with Edison, Nicola Tesla and George Westinghouse are two names we’ve heard often. Yet, how much do we really know about any of them?

“The Current War” isn’t a birth-to-death accounting of the life of Thomas Edison. Instead, it takes us back to the 1880s. To a time when Edison and Westinghouse battled to be first to bring electricity to American homes. In this age of clean energy and turning everything from gas to electric power, what better time than now to share this story?

The film features a stellar cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch. He has been very busy since his Oscar nomination for “The Imitation Game.” Over the past three years, Cumberbatch completed seasons of the BBC series “Sherlock.” He also lent his distinctive voice to the Hobbit films and another upcoming incarnation of “The Jungle Book.” And, of course, Marvel is keeping him very busy as their latest hero, “Doctor Strange.” He is widely recognized as a talented actor, but needs the right vehicle to propel him to his second Oscar nomination and first win. His 2015 nomination came from playing real-life mathematician Alan Turing. Turing’s work cracking the enigma code helped fight the Nazis in World War II.

However, Cumberbatch isn’t the only one bringing talent. Michael Shannon, who plays George Westinghouse, has two Oscar nominations already. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2009 for “Revolutionary Road” and again this year for “Nocturnal Animals.” With Shannon’s gifts, it seems to be a matter of when and not if he will finally take home that statue. Since this is supposed to be a film about Edison and Westinghouse together, Cumberbatch and Shannon should compete against each other for a shot at Best Actor. However, there are many examples (most recently with “Carol”) where a co-lead was shuffled into the Supporting category instead. And since the first looks from the Weinstein Company all feature Cumberbatch and not Shannon, it looks to be the direction this is headed. Either way, if the film lives up to its buzz, Shannon could be looking at back-to-back nominations.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED: For all the interest in the story, and the talented actors in the cast, there is one glaring truth about “The Current War.” The inexperience of nearly everyone in the crew. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon received a lot of praise for his feature film debut “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” But the rest of his directorial filmography involves a few episodes of “American Horror Story” and “Glee.” There simply isn’t enough data on his directing style or abilities to really know if he’s up to this kind of challenge.

We can say the same for writer Michael Mitnick. Prior to this job, he wrote several episodes of the defunct HBO series “Vinyl” and one feature film: “The Giver.” That film, which starred the overrated Meryl Streep, was panned by critics barely turned a profit. Much like Gomez-Rejon, there just isn’t enough information about his abilities.

These two are part of the recent wave of writers and directors who are handed high profile projects without first proving themselves. Of course, this strategy has had mixed results. Earning the confidence of the Weinsteins is important. But distribution from The Weinstein Company isn’t always a guarantee of quality.

In fact, Gomez-Rejon and Mitnick aren’t the only members of the crew with short filmographies. The main crew boasts only a collective three Oscar nominations. Two from production designer Jan Roelfs for two films in the nineties (“Orlando” and “Gattaca”), and one from Costume Designer Michael Wilkinson (“American Hustle”). This doesn’t necessarily mean the people working on this film don’t deserve to be there. But this business is much more about who you know than what you know. And awards are often handed out based on the project that earned you a snub and not for the one that got the nomination. An untested crew could prove to be a liability.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture – Adam Ackland, Garrett Basch, Michael Mitnick
  • Director – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Actor in a Leading Role – Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Actor in a Supporting Role – Michael Shannon
  • Actress in a Supporting Role – Katherine Waterston
  • Original Screenplay – Michael Mitnick
  • Production Design – Jan Roelfs
  • Cinematography – Chung-Hoon Chung
  • Costume Design – Michael Wilkinson
  • Film Editing – David Trachtenberg
  • Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Original Score

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advance Oscar Predictions
and see where “The Current War ranks!

  • Calvin Damon

    You don’t even think that there’s a chance that Nicholas Hoult could be a thing?

    • At this stage, everyone has a chance. I’m just looking at what the Academy is likely to do and I don’t see them nominating both Cumberbatch and Shannon for Lead Actor. I suppose it’s possible for Shannon and Hoult to both be nominated for Supporting.

  • Paul

    I thought Eddie Redmayne also starred in the film, as Edison’s lawyer. If I’m not mistaken…

    • Paul

      Sorry, Westinghouse’s lawyer. Paul Cravath, I think.

    • That might have been the plan at one point, but I can’t find anything confirming it now.

  • Joey Magidson

    I wish this one interested me, even a little. It feels closer to the “medicine” prestige picture we get each year than anything else. Who knows, though…

    • I’m on the fence with this. I want it to be good, but I tend to agree with you.