Movie Review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda, Mitch Pileggi
Director: Marc Abraham
I must have been a hard movie to pitch. FLASH OF GENIUS tells the story of the man that invented the intermittent windscreen wiper. But before you run away and think this film isn’t for you, explore the full story.
Professor Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) is a lecturer in engineering and an inventor. Coming up with an idea for a blinking wiper, he takes his prototype to Ford. After their initial interest, Kearns is told Ford aren’t going with his idea but when not only they but other car companies use his idea, Kearns begins a 12-year battle against these large controlling corporations to get recognition for his invention and more importantly justice.
It is a staggering and life affirming true story of a simple moral man trying to see justice done. It is a story of the greed of large corporations but also a story of how seeking what is right can cost you everything. Kearns is an uncompromising man and determines to follow his quest through to the end, no matter what it costs him.
The first film directed by producer Marc Graham, FLASH OF GENIUS is an unusual choice. Professor Kearns is not an obvious choice for a film hero. He is irascible and opinionated. We start the film seeing him going through a breakdown caused by his obsession with his court battle and he isn’t a man to immediately warm to, but slowly we see the decency that is at his core.
They have chosen wisely in the casting of Greg Kinnear. He embodies the kind of doggedness that infuriates others but for us is quite endearing. Kinnear has a great mix of desperation and determination that helps us to side with him when his decisions drive everyone else away.
The film manages to create an authentic period feel in costume and design but this never intrudes on the story. The “50’s Americana” look could easily appear a bit cornball but Detroit – Motor City – makes an interesting backdrop and the overall look of the film reflects the age very nicely.
Lauren Graham makes an affable wife and there are six children who age in the background as the lawsuit occupies all of Kearns time and energy. In fact everyone but Kinnear fades into the background and the wife and family have very little character of their own. Alan Alda makes an all too brief appearance as lawyer who tries to help Kearns but it Kearns and Kinnear that make their mark.
The story flags and meanders slightly in the middle but you cannot help but root for the little man here. When it becomes a court case and Kearns chooses to represent himself, it could all seem a bit unbelievable. The fact that this is a true story makes these scenes more poignant and by the time the jury retires we are sucked into the story.
What we are left with though is simple story of triumph over adversity – one told many hundreds of time before. There are whole channels devoted to these stories on cable television. Kinnear and Graham add a bit of class to the picture but not enough to lift it above the slew of similar films out there.