Flash of Genius

Flash of Genius

4.6 6
Director: Marc Abraham

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney

     
 

Greg Kinnear stars in director Marc Abraham's man-against-the-system docudrama Flash of Genius as inventor Robert Kearns, the visionary who developed the modern intermittent windshield wiper. Kearns submitted the invention to each of the big three auto companies, each of which promptly rejected it; the companies then turned around and put the device to use. TheSee more details below

Overview

Greg Kinnear stars in director Marc Abraham's man-against-the-system docudrama Flash of Genius as inventor Robert Kearns, the visionary who developed the modern intermittent windshield wiper. Kearns submitted the invention to each of the big three auto companies, each of which promptly rejected it; the companies then turned around and put the device to use. The enraged inventor spent several decades attempting to collect on his patent, and mounting lawsuits that traveled all the way to the Supreme Court; he eventually collected over 30 million dollars for his obsession. Abraham co-authored the script with Scott Frank and Phillip Railsback, adapting an article by John Seabrook that originally appeared in The New Yorker. Dermot Mulroney plays Kinnear's best friend, with Lauren Graham rounding out the supporting cast.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
One could easily foresee Hollywood shoehorning the tale of Dr. Bob Kearns, maverick inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, into a conventional mold as the ultimate underdog story, given Kearns' court-validated insistence that he was bilked by the Ford Motor Company out of several patents and a colossal fortune. And that's probably why Universal greenlit the project. But in adapting this material for the screen as a feature drama, scenarist Phillip Railsback (who adapted John Seabrook's New Yorker article "Flash of Genius") and director Marc Abraham offer a surprisingly thoughtful and provocative take on this material that gently stretches it beyond the boundaries of expectation even as it dissatisfies on a few other key levels. As evidenced by his shattering portrayal of sex addict Bob Crane in Paul Schrader's masterful Auto Focus (2002), Greg Kinnear has an inherent genius for playing monomaniacs. But this Dr. Kearns (as presented here, anyway) really takes the cake; a Detroit-area engineering professor with a beautiful wife (Lauren Graham) and several children, he evidently grew so devastated over Ford's theft of his invention that he experienced at least one major institutionalization for emotional instability, a nervous breakdown, and psychotic delusions of grandeur. To Railsback and Abraham's credit, they never shy away from fully disclosing these touchy issues -- quite the contrary, in fact; that material lies at the heart of the film. When we first see Kearns, he's seated on a Greyhound bus in Maryland, where he's promptly visited by state troopers who inquire about his destination; he responds softly through an obvious haze of psychosis with, "I'm going to see the Vice President of the United States, he invited me." The film thus quickly evolves from the anticipated tale of an underdog taking on the system (one with whom we can all empathize) to a chronicle of someone whose obsessive qualities drove his actions into some dangerous and highly questionable areas, not merely in terms of sanity but in terms of daily life. Consider this: His wife leaves him because he won't give up. His children temporarily abandon him because he won't give up. His attorney (Alan Alda, splendid as always) abandons the case because he won't give up. In agony, Kearns raises his voice to an innocent student and randomly accuses the boy of conspiratorial involvement, in a bout of delusional paranoia. He rejects settlement, after settlement, after settlement from Ford, even when the motor company offers him 30 million dollars out of court. It all grows so extreme that the film eventually seems to be asking, "At what price glory? Even though Kearns encountered a court victory and reeled in an admission of guilt from Ford, was it actually justifiable to sacrifice his marriage and dignity?" The makers thus reveal depth and courage with a head-on and unflinching look at this disturbed character. There may not have been any other way to handle the material truthfully, but a downside exists as well: on an emotional level (that of watchability) Kearns quickly grows so insensitive to everyone around him that he's actually difficult to take for more than about five minutes -- like an endless, insufferable, and ongoing drone who never shuts up -- fingernails on a chalk board. He ultimately grows so monomaniacal, so obsessive, and so fixated on "justice" that he threatens to eliminate all audience empathy. Curiously, the film builds on this complexity of Kearns as a character by suggesting that he may have been a victim of his own self-grandeur from the beginning to a certain extent; when one of the top Ford executives (Mitch Pileggi) finally bears witness in court, he indicates that the company never would have given Kearns the authority to manufacture the said windshield devices because it would have entailed putting something enormous in the hands of a veritable amateur with no manufacturing experience. And the exec in fact indicated his resistance to this idea during his initial meeting with Kearns. To his utter detriment, Kearns refused to listen, thus setting up his own downfall to some degree. As a result of the wonderful ambiguities at its core, the movie thrives on an intellectual level and impresses with Kinnear's four-barreled performance, but makes one wonder who in the world thought this character would be the least bit entertaining or empathetic. In terms of exposition, it also retains a number of flaws -- particularly the fact that a number of questions are left unanswered. The most telling line is delivered by Kearns' business partner and friend, multimillionaire Gil Privick (Dermot Mulroney), who declares at one point, "Bob, you've been coming up with ideas like this since you were 14." If so, why didn't he simply pursue something else, or, better yet, multiple projects, after being ripped off by Ford? Moreover, as super-cautious as Bob and Gil are (legally and otherwise) in approaching Ford, how is it possible that the auto giant found a loophole and took advantage of them? This, also, is never made clear. And on a simple logistical level, Abraham and Railsback deprive us of one of the saving graces in a film such as this -- intertitles on the screen indicating the years of the various events, the absence of which muddles the film's timespan. As for the elements of man-against-the-system inspirational uplift (again, probably unavoidable), the film admittedly packs in a number of powerful scenes along these lines; the most devastating occurs when Kearns visits a Ford auto show (replete with an obnoxious, lounge-style crooner on a staircase saluting the new Ford line with its intermittent wipers) and then gets literally thrown out into the rain given his absence from the guest list. The humiliation and the disillusionment that Kearns encounters here are fully palpable. The picture feels much hokier and less credible when it attempts to borrow from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and other similar fables by having Kearns deliver a folksy courtroom self-defense with an argument that relies on very shaky logic (and finds him whipping out a copy of Dickens to prove his point). It isn't difficult to picture, say, Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart treading the same ground, and that was probably the idea. In the final analysis, one walks away from the motion picture with a surprisingly deep and multifaceted understanding of what made Kearns tick. We feel some vindication at his victory, just as we feel a melancholic sense of loss about what he's sacrificed. But that doesn't necessarily mean we've enjoyed his company or agreed with his decisions.

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Product Details

Release Date:
02/17/2009
UPC:
0025195032575
Original Release:
2008
Rating:
PG13
Source:
Universal Studios
Region Code:
1
Presentation:
[Wide Screen]
Sound:
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Time:
2:00:00
Sales rank:
46,163

Special Features

Deleted scenes with commentary by director Marc Abraham; Feature commentary with director Marc Abraham

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Greg Kinnear Robert Kearns
Lauren Graham Phyllis Kearns
Dermot Mulroney Gil Privick
Jake Abel Dennis Kearns
Daniel Roebuck Frank Sertin
Tim Kelleher Charles Defao
Bill Smitrovich Judge Michael Franks
Alan Alda Gregory Lawson
Mitch Pileggi Ford executive

Technical Credits
Marc Abraham Director,Screenwriter
Patrick Banister Art Director
Gary Barber Producer
Roger Birnbaum Producer
Thomas A. Bliss Executive Producer
Denise Chamian Casting
J. Miles Dale Executive Producer
Scott Frank Screenwriter
Jonathan Glickman Executive Producer
Michael Lieber Producer
Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski Production Designer
Eric Newman Executive Producer
Phillip Railsback Screenwriter
G. Marq Roswell Musical Direction/Supervision
Jill Savitt Editor
Luis M. Sequeira Costumes/Costume Designer
Dante Spinotti Cinematographer
Adam Swart Musical Direction/Supervision
Aaron Zigman Score Composer

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Flash of Genius
1. Blink of an Eye [6:17]
2. It's Alive [6:07]
3. Give 'Em a Peek [6:26]
4. The Demonstration [5:49]
5. Look, No Hands [3:28]
6. Wiper Competition [4:23]
7. They Want Out [6:49]
8. Fighting It [4:44]
9. You Can't Win [8:43]
10. Starting All Over [6:12]
11. In It for the Long Haul [9:10]
12. Don't Believe [4:43]
13. Take It or Leave It [5:20]
14. Going to Trial [5:39]
15. Day in Court [4:50]
16. Nothing New [7:34]
17. We've Come This Far [2:34]
18. Final Arguments [9:32]
19. Bittersweet [4:28]
20. End Titles [6:26]

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