Review

Flash of Genius Review

By:
Oct 02, 2008 | 8:52pm EDT

This may be the best movie about the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper Hollywood has ever turned out. If that sounds facetious it’s not meant to be. Taking subject matter like this and making it into a populist winner Frank Capra probably would have been proud to direct is a minor miracle. The film revolves around college professor and inventor Robert Kearns’(Greg Kinnear) epic battle with Ford Motor Company over the patent for the intermittent windshield wiper a device Kearns invented in the ‘60s and took to Ford. They praised his work but later ignored him and went ahead with an invention that would become a part of every car on the planet. Kearns then entered into an excruciating quarter of a century suing Ford and other companies over the use of his creation going through a gaggle of lawyers and settlement offers. His one goal: Ford must admit publicly that they stole his idea. Although the film condenses this battle to 12 years it’s still the heart of what really happened and the devastating effect his quest had on his family (six kids) and his marriage to his wife Phyllis (Lauren Graham). Kinnear is superb in a tricky role. Kearns isn’t exactly the kind of guy you cozy up to. He’s got almost a single-track vision and goal that threatens his livelihood and his family. It’s hard to understand how he could turn down the kinds of settlements offered for the personal satisfaction of just having a corporation admit they cheated him but that’s what he does repeatedly. Somehow through Kinnear’s interpretation we can understand the motivation of this man--he felt his once-in-a-lifetime moment had been swallowed up by the Detroit auto machine and he was tossed to the curb. Ultimately this is a revenge movie. Graham is nicely understated and understandably frustrated as the wife who tries to stand by her man and bring up six kids as their money goes out the window in lawsuits. Dermot Mulroney as an early business partner who doesn’t share the same zeal as Kearns to fight Detroit is quite good in limited screen time. Best moments in the supporting cast though belong to Alan Alda sensationally oily as a lawyer who takes on the case and strikes a settlement deal he thinks is a slam dunk. Their restaurant scene is priceless superbly played by both Kinnear and Alda. You only wish he had a bigger role. Marc Abraham is a veteran producer (Children of Men Spy Game Air Force One) with a long list of credits but this is his first outing as a director. Although the film doesn’t really seem to exhibit a singular touch seeming more like a familiar Hollywood biographical genre-movie  Abraham wisely focuses on the story’s heart and soul making it work as a kind of populist Capraesque entertainment. It’s not flashy but totally absorbing slick and very professionally made. What could have been a dull by-the-numbers account of the little guy fighting city hall instead becomes a very personal story of a man obsessed with the kind of justice only he seems to be interested in. It’s a tale of a lonely struggle spread out over many years a film not so much about a flash of genius but a battle for self-worth that defined an entire lifetime.

More Review News