Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current War” has been saved by new distributor Upstart 101. Deadline reports the company has closed a domestic distribution deal for the movie and is planning to use the title as its first major theatrical release this summer. Upstart 101 paid around $3 million for “The Current War,” which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse and focuses on the two historical figures as they race to complete revolutionary electrical systems.
“The Current War” was originally set up at The Weinstein Company and premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, a few months before the wave of sexual harassment and abuse accusations against Harvey Weinstein derailed the company. “The Current War” was one of the big critical misfires of TIFF (IndieWire’s David Ehrlich gave the film a D review), but Gomez-Rejon tells Deadline the film that premiered at the festival was not the cut he intended. The filmmaker said Weinstein’s intense pressure to meet the TIFF deadline resulted in a rushed post-production that botched the movie.
“It had been accepted to Toronto based on an early cut and then came the rush to finish in time,” Gomez-Rejon said. “I knew in my heart, and every fiber of my body was saying, it’s not ready. I was drowning in notes, to the point I was addressing them more than editing the film. I’d get them from London, and then more from New York. We rushed the mix, ADR, sound. You go in knowing [Harvey Weinstein’s reputation for re-cutting films]. People warned me to be careful and I was determined to not be another casualty until I saw the [Toronto] cut and felt like an idiot. I went in fearless and then suddenly you realize you are a casualty, a footnote.”
Gomez-Rejon said being in the theater the night “The Current War” premiered was “rock bottom.” The film was met with an onslaught of negative press, with many articles noting how the film was a fall from grace for Gomez-Rejon considering his last film, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The director said the reviews left him “completely shattered.”
The Weinstein Company had already set a November release for the movie timed to the Thanksgiving holiday. The idea was to follow in the footsteps of the studio’s Oscar winner “The King’s Speech,” which earned strong buzz at the fall festivals and opened in theaters November 26, 2010. With abysmal reviews putting a wrench into the plan, Gomez-Rejon said Weinstein took it upon himself to edit the movie after TIFF and provide another edit of the film that would have served as its theatrical cut.
“I could barely watch but I had to,” Gomez-Rejon said. “I could see battles I’d won and all that I lost in the negotiations to keep moments I was proud of. And I could see that there was too much negotiation and compromise on the screen. It felt off, and I found myself wondering if this was the film I would have to make excuses for my entire career, because the story had so much potential.”
Thanks to Upstart 101, “The Current War” will not only have a U.S. theatrical release but it will open the version of the movie Gomez-Rejon originally envisioned. The director has added in five additional scenes that were previously cut, and overall his final edit comes in at 10 minutes shorter than what was screened at TIFF in 2017.
“Everything missing is there now, including the right pacing that escalates the tension between these two men,” Gomez-Rejon said. “The heart of the film is restored…There are new scenes with Tesla, who was never meant to be a lead character but now you see his genius and vulnerability. He doesn’t feel forgotten in this movie, and he gives heart and clarity to the clash between these two men and what drives them to go to such dark places.”
Upstart 101 is eyeing an August release for “The Current War.”