Monday, October 13, 2008

This Flash of Genius teaches us all a lesson

FLASH OF GENIUS, based on a true story is set in Detroit and spanning multiple decades. Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) has a good life. A respected college professor who teaches electrical engineering, he has a lovely wife (Lauren Graham) and six great kids. But first and foremost, Kearns is an inventor. In 1967, he built the intermittent windshield wiper, dubbing it "Kearns' Blinking Eye," and ultimately shared his patented specs with Ford Motor Company so that he could manufacture the wipers for them. Then he spends his life trying to get Ford to admit that they stole his idea when he spots his invention on Ford cars after they bail out of the deal with him. Kearns isn't after money. In taking on one of the most powerful corporations in America, if not the world, Kearns wants Ford to tell the truth and give credit where credit is due. At the same time, he wants to protect the patent process for every inventor. Kinnear gives a nuanced performance as Kearns, a quirky, church-going family man and professor who slowly descends into paranoia and obsession with reaching his goals. Graham fits the bill as a loving but independent wife and mother who finds herself competing with her husband's quest. Dermot Mulroney is solid as Kearns's childhood friend and early business partner. And it's a treat to see Alan Alda as a justice-seeking lawyer who may or not be able to live up to Kearns's high expectations.

FLASH OF GENIUS is based on a John Seabrook article that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993, and his later book of the same name about Robert Kearns (Kinnear), a Michigan college professor who, in the late-1960s, invented the automobile intermittent windshield wiper -- by which a driver can adjust the speed of the blade to the rain flow. Kearns took out a patent, found financial backers, formed his own company and took the to Ford Motor Co., which had been unsuccessfully working on the same idea for years. Ford made a deal with him and studied his device, then inexplicably backed out. In several of Ford's next year's models, however, they introduced a version of his device, claiming they'd developed it themselves. Kearns sued, but quickly found that challenging a major corporation in court is a lengthy, costly and intimidating undertaking. Still, he persisted and the movie follows the epic legal battle he waged from 1969 to 1982, during which he ended up representing himself and turned down a succession of lucrative settlement offers because an admission of guilt of Ford's part was not part of the package. Beautifully acted by Kinnear, the audience really feels for Kearns as he pursues the Ford Corporation to admit their wrongdoings. While most would have taken the money and been satisfied, Kearns stood up to fight right and wrong and in the end he wins. Representing himself in court with the help of his children was a bold step, one that he KNEW had to be taken. Although him standing up for the everyday man may have cost him his wife, his children kept him going, knowing that it was never about the money and all about the principle. This movie really worked mainly because of Kinnear and I highly recommend it. A lovely 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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