Flash of Genius – Review

Finally, a movie about windshield wipers!!

Image courtesy of www.IMPawards.com

Director: Marc Abraham
Notable Cast: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda, Mitch Pileggi

In recent weeks I’ve seen two movies that were based on true stories. One was about the first African American to win the prestigious Heisman trophy. The other was of a man who spent years battling the U.S. automobile industry, fighting to receive recognition for his wondrous invention: the intermittent windshield wiper. The subject matter of the latter doesn’t seem worthy of the silver-screen treatment, because, honestly, who makes a film about windshield wipers? Had a producer not stumbled across John Seabrook’s New Yorker article, “The Flash of Genius,” or Steve Railsback’s (Helter Skelter) brother, Philip, hadn’t adapted the story to screen, I would have never heard the story about a part-time inventor named Robert Kearns.

Greg Kinnear is an actor’s who’s accustomed to biographical films and based-on-a-true-story stories, having been a part of two within the last six years. In 2002 he portrayed Bob Crane (the star of Hogan’s Heroes) in Auto Focus. The performance was one of nuance and quiet desperation, of a man who is consumed by an inconsumable sexual appetite. Most recently Kinnear donned a whistle around his neck to play the legendary football coach Dick Vermeil in Invincible.

As Bob Kearns, Kinnear again slips into the shoes of someone of history but of someone who is far removed from the likes above. Kearns was never as famous (or infamous) as Crane, or as vocal as Vermeil. He was a simple man with a wife and six kids—living his own American Dream in the state of Michigan. On the night of his honeymoon his wife shot a champagne cork into his left eye mistakenly, leaving him partially blind. Strange enough, it was this odd little honeymoon experience that would push Kearns to invent the intermittent windshield wiper a decade later.

But the invention is only part of the story.

Flash of Genius
begins as a story about one man’s ingenuity and turns into a legal David versus Goliath tale: the lowly inventor against the automotive giant, Ford Motor Corp. It’s plainly obvious that we are to rally around Kearns and view big business as a scourge on society. (How timely with today’s volatile marketplace, don’t you think?) A decade of Kearns’ life was spent fighting the titans of industry, and in that time he alienated most of his family and friends; but he was a man of principles and only wanted what he duteously strived to achieve: recognition. Kearns didn’t want to be famous, just fortunate enough to make a little something because of his inventiveness.

Greg Kinnear, through his body language and line delivery, illustrates the stress and frustration Kearns endured through those tumultuous years. Becoming gray-haired and weary-eyed—due to many days and nights spent researching patent law—Kinnear seems withdrawn from everything around him. He loses everything but not himself and ultimately wins in the end. This is Frank Capra 101, folks.

And for first-time director Marc Abraham Flash of Genius as a Capra-esque matinée is a safe picture. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it has to be. It’s simple and uncomplicated and to the point. While it may have made for a better film to further explore those lives around Bob Kearns, his wife (Lauren Graham) and best friend (Dermot Mulroney) most notably, Kinnear is a strong enough lead to carry this type of picture himself.

Flash of Genius is proof that everybody has a story to tell, even the “nameless famous”—those who’ve done something remarkable yet nobody knows your name. Well at least one of the nameless famous can now get his fifteen minutes.


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