Technology innovation is key to survival. Windshield wipers allow us to see in the rain. And windshield wiper innovation is perfect material for a thrilling movie of suspense, mystery and drama. Yes, Flash of Genius is about windshield wipers - or at least the invention of an improved windshield wiper that an earnest inventor creates only to have Ford steal it away from him, destroying his family, reputation and mind in the process.
Flash of Genius stars Greg Kinnear as Robert Kearns, a loving husband and father who has been inventing things all his life. After he invents the intermittent windshield wiper, he plans to manufacture his creation and service all of the major automobile companies, making millions. But a poor decision leads to his design being stolen by Ford and ultimately used by the Big Three, leaving him shattered and alone. Nevertheless, he never gives up, determined to make Ford state that they did indeed steal from him. This movie is about his 15-year battle against one of the most powerful organizations in the world.
Kinnear delivers a great performance as the understated Kearns, a man who is not socially awkward but socially indifferent. He's not the nicest person and certainly not the most compromising, and Kinnear takes the character to heart. Though his supporting cast is strong, he alone carries the film, never dazzling and domineering the screen but simply steering it in the right direction.
The movie itself is good. One wouldn't think that a movie about windshield wipers would be at all interesting, but it is. This is an incredible true story with lots of interesting developments, including family drama, a nervous breakdown, corporate thievery and courtroom antics. Flash of Genius works because of these things.
At the same time, director Marc Abraham seems to have let his story present itself, rather than attempt to elevate it. The presentation itself is a bit dull and meandering. It never locks down on any individual segment and doesn't go for the gut. Abraham's lack of ambition in the matter pays off in the long run, but Flash of Genius could have been so much more. Abraham presents so many things throughout the film but never completely develops any of them; the courtroom sequence, while good, isn't nearly as suspenseful as it should have been. More importantly, Abraham skirts right over Kearns' nervous breakdown, a move that leaves Kinnear without that golden scene that wins awards. Flash of Genius is too much facts, too little emotion.
That being said, Flash of Genius is still an entertaining movie with good acting and an interesting story. Though not an award contender by any means, it holds its own and deserves to be watched by more than the few windshield wiper nuts out there in the world (you know there have to be some). A different director may have been able to take the movie further, however. Still, recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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