Review of Flash of Genius directed by Marc Abraham
Rating **** 1/2
I had planned on seeing this film when it first came out in theaters. Everything about this story appealed to me: the idea behind the invention, the legal fight against a major corporation, the fact that he acted as his own attorney, the consequences of his actions on his marriage. But by the time I had an opportunity to get to a theater the film was gone. I don't think it lasted more than two weeks at most. And that's a shame because this is a great film.
Robert Kerns, played perfectly by Greg Kinnear, is an electrical engineer and college professor. He develops a way to pause the motion of a windshield wiper at variable lengths. Turns out that the engineers at Ford were also working on the same idea, but were not successful in solving the problem. So when Kerns shows them a working prototype they agree to work with him.
Kern takes steps to start his own manufacturing business to build and deliver his "blinking eye" windshield wiper motor. He gives the Ford engineers his prototype for further testing. Just when he is getting geared up for production Ford backs out. Sure enough months later Ford shows off the intermittent windshield wiper on their new Ford Mustang. Thus begins a legal battle that will drag on for twelve long years and ultimately cost Kern's his marriage.
I can see the problems the marketing people had with this film. Who wants to see a film about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper? But this film is every bit as interesting as two of last year's best picture nominations: Frost/Nixon and Milk.
Marc Abraham, who also co-wrote the script, tells a balanced story. Ford was working on developing the same idea. And their argument against working with a supplier who had no manufacturing experience is a valid point. The ambiguity also creates more suspense by creating doubt as to the final outcome.
Laura Graham, who plays Kern's wife, does a good job with the limited material she had to work with. The film could have used a few more scenes that showed the deterioration of the marriage.
My only criticism is that they could have done a better job creating suspense in the courtroom, and they could have at least put a little at the end of the film about the real Robert Kearn and his family. There was also nothing on the DVD or on the web to help fill out the story. The DVD had only an audio commentary, which could have used Greg Kinnear's comments.