The Current War: Director's Cut

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Current War: Director's Cut Movie Poster Image
Drama shines light on dark actions; electrocution, smoking.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance pays off: Thomas Edison describes elation of achieving the impossible through persistence, while another character describes him as one who creates his own reality and then looks for needles in a haystack until he's made it happen. More important than fame or fortune is creating a legacy by leaving the world a better place. When people team up, greater success can occur than by working alone. Treat employees well.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All three inventors share a dedication to problem-solving through innovation and share character strengths of curiosity, perseverance. George and wife Marguerite Westinghouse have great integrity, running their company ethically, conscientiously. Edison is portrayed as egomaniacal, fame-seeking, arrogant, but his genius is unquestionable, transforming many ideas into inventions, valuing creation over profit. Westinghouse and Tesla show that teamwork can yield fantastic results. Examples of positive representation include Lewis Latimer, a black inventor known for improving Edison's light bulb, and a black journalist in the turn-of-the-century press pool.


Death by electrocution is a strong component of the film; it has historic validity. Even thought it's never shown on camera, talk of it is frequent, and animals are intentionally electrocuted in an effort to destroy a rival's business (viewers meet one animal before it becomes a victim to the voltage). A supporting character accidentally dies from the charge. The invention of the electric chair leads to a prisoner being executed horrifically (discussed, no imagery). Recurring scene shows a soldier looking down the barrel of a gun. A man covered in blood confesses to murder. A man shoots another in self-defense. One inventor tries to smear another's reputation, yells at employees, throws an object in anger in front of his staff.


Married couple kisses/shows affection.


"Damn" and "goddamn." A brilliant inventor is called an immigrant as a derogatory term and told to "go back to where you came from."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Edison frequently smokes cigars alone and is sometimes joined by those around him. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Current War: Director's Cut is a historical drama about Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse's fierce competition to develop the electrical system that would power the world. Casting actors associated with superheroes -- Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Michael Shannon (Superman nemesis General Zod), and Nicholas Hoult (Beast from X-Men) -- may get kids' attention. But this film focuses less on the bright minds and more on the dark sides of two great American inventors, particularly the legendary Edison. He's shown to be rude, petty, arrogant, and willing to stop at nothing -- including electrocuting animals -- to best his opponent. The creation of the electric chair also takes up a lot of screen time; there's discussion of a horrific execution, as well as an accidental death, a shooting, and someone shown covered in blood. While the movie may inspire discussion about business ethics (and characters do demonstrate both curiosity and perseverance), it's not as inspirational as parents might hope when it comes to spurring kids to make their own creations a reality. Rather, by turning a big hero into a small man, it may be a deterrent. Edison smokes cigars throughout and has a temper. Strong language includes "goddamn," and there's some kissing/affection between a married couple.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymovieman48 December 16, 2019

Educational but dull

Well acted, historical movie but man, it is dull, dull, dull! Don't take the kids to see this as there are some distressing scenes. It informs but does not... Continue reading
Parent of a 5, 10, and 10-year-old Written bysilwuttke April 11, 2020


Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2020


I am impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch's acting!
Teen, 13 years old Written byTedster April 4, 2020


It’s pretty good there’s not that violence in it. I think you should be 10 or 9 to watch

What's the story?

THE CURRENT WAR: DIRECTOR'S CUT recounts the race between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to bring electricity to America. The two men, both principled and passionate, have wildly different personalities, approaches, and interpretations of the best means to power the country. As they compete for contracts across America's grid, will their integrity stay intact? 

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way we choose to depict history in the media. What's the impact of showing poor behavior by someone who's been lionized for making positive contributions to the world? Why might people be driven to "correct history"?

  • Talk about the meaning of integrity. Do you think the three inventors shared that quality? How did they bend their principles? Both Edison and Westinghouse felt that the other had wronged them -- does that justify their actions? Do you feel one's actions were worse than the other's? Why or why not?

  • How do Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla exemplify curiosity and perseverance? Could their inventions have been realized without those qualities? What obstacles were in their way? Why are those important character traits?

  • What do you think of how Edison treated people, including Tesla, Westinghouse, and financier J.P. Morgan? Society often excuses misconduct in geniuses and leaders of industry. Why do you think that is? Is there a solution?

  • What is the Eighth Amendment? No one in the movie, not even a humane society leader, takes issue with Edison electrocuting animals to show the potential danger of alternating current. What does that tell you about how times have changed? Is there anything society deems acceptable now that you think future generations will find unethical?

Movie details

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