Flash of GeniusReviewed By Lybarger
Posted 10/03/08 13:53:38
(Worth A Look)
All kidding aside, freshman director and veteran producer Marc Abrahamís 'Flash of Genius' works because itís less about a car appliance and more about the people who made it possible. Thereís enough betrayal, reversal of fortune, heartbreak and triumph to fill ten soap operas. Unlike many Hollywood dramas that claim to be fact based, itís both consistently engaging and reasonably close to the facts.The late Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) may not be as familiar as Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison, but we should be grateful to him every time we drive or even cross the street. In the early 60s, he designed a windshield wiper that worked intermittently.
This special rhythm allowed drivers to more easily adjust the wipers to varying levels of rain. In addition, his system worked more liked the human eye, which blinks every few seconds automatically. As a result, drivers could see more clearly and avoid accidents more easily.
The reason his name is not better known is that Kearns offered to manufacture the wipers himself for Ford, while the auto giant reportedly appropriated his design without giving him credit or royalties.
To be fair, Ford had a plan for an intermittent wiper, but it was impractical to include in their vehicles because it required nearly 20 moving parts, any of which could quickly render the system potentially dysfunctional. Kearnsí design had only one.
Itís a safe bet that ďFlash of Genius,Ē which gained its title from an earlier Supreme Court that Kearns used as the cornerstone of his case, wouldnít have been made if Kearns had not ably defended his rights.
Nonetheless, the film works because screenwriter Philip Railsback and Abraham never shy away from revealing how difficult Kearnsí legal battle was nor how it drove him to madness.
Despite help from an ace attorney (Alan Alda, as his slickest), Kearns refused to accept lucrative settlements from Ford because the company never admitted fault. Kearnsí stubbornness strained his relationship with his wife (Lauren Graham), who wondered if her husbandís pride mattered more than their familyís fragile monetary situation. His quest even endangers his relationship with his business partner and best friend (Dermot Mulroney).
The film is obviously on Kearnsí side, but itís more interesting than most David and Goliath stories because it makes the costs of failure tangible and frightening. It also raises an interesting point by asking of Kearns was really noble by refusing to take Fordís money and running.
After seeing the film, Iíd encourage viewers to read John Seabrookís article at www.newyorker.com. Itís more nuanced than the film, but it does indicated that Kearnsí struggle was as difficult as it was unlikely.
Abraham doesnít do anything flashy here, and that works in the filmís favor. The story becomes easier to believe because thereís a minimum of histrionics. While it might seem odd that Kearns would serve as his own counsel in the final hearings, it did happen. Thankfully, Abraham trusts us to realize how dramatic the situation really is.
The film rests easily on Kinnearís narrow but sturdy shoulders. Even if he didnít wear old age makeup, he effortlessly switches from enthusiastic inventor to bitterly determined agitator. Kinnear plays a man who is as easily torn within himself. The film derives its tension from whether he can complete his Quixotic endeavor or wind up being destroyed by his own arrogance.Considering his modest origins on cable comedy, Kinnear erases any doubts viewers might have about his talents the way Kearnsí wipers remove the rain.
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