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  Flash of Genius

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Jake Abel, Bill Smitrovich

Directed by: Marc Abraham

Produced by: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Michael Lieber

Written by: Philip Railsback

Distributor: Universal Pictures


     I’m a sucker for manipulative, feel-good melodramas so long as they are impeccably crafted. In a way, it’s harder for a filmmaking team to pull off a traditional film than it is an avant-garde project because the familiarities of the former are so distinctly recognizable. This fact makes the rare instance in which one succeeds all the more pleasantly surprising. Last year, such was the case with the transfixing tearjerker August Rush. This year, Flash of Genius is that special film.


     That Flash of Genius got made is a triumph in and of itself. As much as I hope the movie does well at the box-office, I realize that it will likely tank given its near-paradoxical marketing campaign. At once, the film tells a standard David vs. Goliath tale about a man overcoming a giant corporation and portrays a rather eccentric subject in that David is the man who invented—you guessed it!—the intermittent windshield wiper. Essentially, Flash of Genius won’t sell to the older female tearjerker set because its protagonist is too out-there, nor will it sell to the art-film crowd who might enjoy said protagonist because they’ll complain about its predictability.


     Despite the challenge that Flash of Genius presents distributor Universal on a commercial level, the film is an artistic knockout. It finds surprising power in the aforementioned combination of a portrayal of a unique man and a (moving) adherence to a genre-standard.


     A lot of the picture’s power rests in the Oscar-quality lead-performance of Greg Kinnear as Bob Kearns, the inventor who changed every driver’s life without them ever knowing who he was. Kinnear portrays each aspect of Bob’s personality just right. In the opening scenes when Bob discovers his intermittent windshield-wiper invention by contemplating the nature of the blinking human eye, the veteran actor perfectly balances his character’s introverted sense of genius and the mind-boggling triumph of his discovery. When Bob successfully invents an intermittent wiper prototype only to be ripped off by the jealous Ford Motor Corporation, his frustration is sympathetic and gut-wrenching because director Marc Abraham allows Kinnear to relate this to the resulting breakdown of Bob’s marriage. Male viewers in particular will empathize with the actor’s portrayal of the way that Bob feels the need to be recognized for his stolen invention so much so that he watches his wife leave him because he becomes emotionally absent. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Kinnear depicts Bob’s courage battling Ford in court for damages due to violating his patent-rights in a dreamily uplifting and unexpectedly humorous manner. Kinnear delivers a stand-out performance in a movie filled with great acting.


     Flash of Genius admittedly doesn’t leave the reviewer a lot to analyze (although I could go on for pages about how skillfully done each element of the film is). There isn’t much socio-political commentary on corporate legal battles to discuss here. Instead, the movie succeeds purely through the density of its emotions. Bob’s intellectual pursuits, home-life, and self-image all prove fascinating angles of the story to observe and to feel. The film moves briskly for a full two hours and offers an experience that will be poignant and entertaining for all viewers who can leave their overriding cynicism at the door. Flash of Genius may indeed be derivative in that it doesn’t seek to achieve anything bold or completely new, but it does tell a compelling story well. And if good storytelling doesn’t have a place in Hollywood, then I don’t know what does.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 10.2.2008

Screened on: 9.24.2008 at the AMC Century City 15 in Century City, CA.


Flash of Genius is rated PG-13 and runs 120 minutes.

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