Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flash of Genius

I hadn't even heard of this movie until I saw a trailer for it right before Ghost Town (which featured Greg Kinnear) a couple of weeks ago. It's the story of Bob Kearns, inventor the intermittent windshield wiper, who spent decades in the pursuit of credit for his work.

The title comes from "Flash of Genius" doctrine developed by the U.S. Supreme Court as a test for patentability. The doctrine held that an invention had to be a result of a "flash of genius" in the mind of the inventor and not as a accidental result of tinkering.

The film is a classic underdog story--David facing Goliath in the form of the heartless and monolithic corporation. Greg Kinnear is excellent delivering an authentic and understated performance as the brilliant, yet at times clueless, Kearns. Given my own predisposition for standing on principle rather than common ground, I could certainly identify with the tale.

Kinnear has always been a solid supporting actor, but this role definitely gives him a chance to shine. And shine he does. There are some great supporting performances by Lauren Graham as Kearns' supportive, long-suffering wife, Dermot Mulroney as his best friend and Mitch Pileggi as the evil (Boo! Hiss!) Ford guy, but it's Kinnear's show. I've always found him to be immensely likable and was happy to hear that, according to a recent interview with the Washington Post (and my friend Diane who had the opportunity to meet and deal with him in person), he's a heckuva nice guy.

This isn't your typical Disney-fied Mighty Ducks type movie. The actual events unfolded over about three decades, and at times during the film you feel the interminability of it all. While the film version is by necessity compressed, the pacing ultimately gives that sense of time dragging out. Kinnear, along with director Marc Abraham, writer Philip Railsback and cinematographer Dante Spinotti, does an amazing job of communicating the frustration and single-minded obsessiveness of Kearns.

It's a very personal story of this man and his quixotic quest for right to prevail. But I felt the filmmakers could have done more to illuminate the story's universality more. At one point in the film, Kearns remarks that he has received letters from others who have been wronged and who are rooting for him to succeed. I would have liked to have seen that rather than just heard about it. In the same scene, lawyer Gregory Lawson (played to effortless perfection by the still amazing Alan Alda) tells Kearns what a pain in the ass he's been--and yet we didn't get to see much evidence of that either.

Railsback did pick some great moments to highlight--I was especially affected by the scene where Kearns sees a car with intermittent wipers for the first time and realizes his invention has been stolen. And while Kearns eventually wins his lawsuit, you are left feeling drained rather than elated given all that he had gone through and given up.

It's too bad that so little effort went into marketing this film. People are swarming to see crap like Eagle Eye and Beverly Hills Chihuahua while this little gem languishes in a corner.

Well, I guess it wouldn't be a true underdog movie if it wasn't truly the underdog...

1 comment:

  1. I still want to see this. I probably won't make it to the theatre due to lack of time and also there's so much other good stuff coming out but I thought the trailer looked good and now you've given it the seal of approval.