Saturday, October 04, 2008

"Flash of Genius"

“Flash of Genius” doesn’t do much to subvert its inspirational, based-on-a-true-story framework, or do anything terribly original or unexpected, but within that sub-genre, it does more to distinguish itself than most, and is consistently involving and restrained. Inspired by Dr. Robert Kearns’ creation of the intermittent windshield wiper, and his subsequent 15-year-long legal battle for Ford Motors after they steal his idea and refuse to acknowledge that it’s his, the story is interesting – if not remarkable – but avoids feeling bland or generic via the casting of the perpetually underrated Greg Kinnear in a rare leading role, and the film’s embracing of the bittersweet, as opposed to sentimental uplift. It’s predictable, sure (Hollywood doesn’t really bring true stories to the screen where David is crushed by Goliath), but we’re never fed what feel like unnecessary exaggerations or bigger-than-life emotional browbeating. Kearns is a terrific surrogate for an audience that currently understands the fight of the little guy against massive corporation, but he’s hardly a saintly everyman; there are numerous points where we question whether or not he’s making the right decision, and moment where Kearns seems on the verge of mental collapse, and the movie’s better for the complications. The A, then B, then C, familiar brand of storytelling doesn’t make it the most exciting or innovative movie out there, but it’s really more compelling than it has any right to be, and Kinnear’s performance makes it always worth watching, even for those not automatically in the tank for “true story” fare.


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