This film isn't as electric as the power titans it portrays, but it's still an informative look at how convenient, easy access to power and light became something many people take for granted. At the time, the debate among leaders of major metropolitan areas was whether to power their cities with Edison's pricier, less powerful, but theoretically safer direct current or Westinghouse's cheaper, more efficient, and farther-reaching alternating current. To turn the tide his way, the movie shows Edison engaging in a nasty misinformation campaign to portray Westinghouse's system as dangerous. While the story is historically accurate, it also highlights poor behavior on the part of someone who's often portrayed as an inspirational American hero. Given that this is the only movie about Edison -- arguably the greatest inventor of the 19th century -- that's been made since 1940, there's no doubt that students will seek it out. Parents should know that it brings to light the darker side of his personality -- including acts of cruelty against animals that are unacceptable today.
This is revisionist history in an honest sense: trying to replace legend by educating on fact, trying to right a wrong. The Current War (which was executive-produced by Martin Scorcese) portrays largely forgotten inventor Westinghouse as a good man with admirable integrity and ethics, who, instead of the the fame that fueled Edison, sought a legacy of good, impactful deeds to better the world. The best use of this drama, when it comes to kids, is to examine the way the men bend their principles and ethics in an effort to succeed. No doubt, each believed his own system was best. But how do you persuade others to see that? And how does personal history play into that (Edison snubbed Westinghouse in a humiliating way; later, Edison mistakenly believes Westinghouse stole his ideas). When someone is fighting dirty, do you go low -- or high? And when you see an up and comer in the mix, as happened with Tesla, do you berate him to keep him below you or embrace him and elevate his ideas and talents? The Current War would be a great pick for debate in a business ethics class, but for kids just trying to navigate the schoolyard, it may be a bit much.