Based on the true story of how college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns' (Greg Kinnear) outmaneuvered the Ford Motor Company and won back the rights to his invention, the intermittent windshield wiper. It tells the tale of one man whose fight to receive recognition for his ingenuity would come at a heavy price. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival this month.
Ignored, threatened and then buried in years of litigation, Bob is haunted by what was done to his family and their future. He becomes a man obsessed with justice and the conviction that his life's work - or for that matter, anyone's work - be acknowledged by those who stand to benefit. Now, the intermittent windshield wiper is not exactly the light bulb. If you're not familiar with the term, the wiper is "intermittent" in the sense that it can pause between wipes – a problem that apparently puzzled engineers at all the major car companies until Kearns cracked it the late 60s. But part of what's nifty about the film is its ability to create suspense and curiosity around something so seemingly mundane. Kearns' first demo of his device to Ford is exciting in a very goofy way, but exciting nonetheless.
The film is not about the thrill of David taking on Goliath, but the helplessness of being pitted against an impersonal, uncaring foe with unlimited time and resources. Kearns is consumed by the injustice and the need to fight back, no matter the odds or the toll the battle will take on his wife (Lauren Graham) and their six kids. There's a moment early on when he ruminates on what makes a man a success, and his wife subtly suggests that he should consider his family as well as his invention as part of the success calculus. He ignores her completely, which turns out to be both prescient and sad.
The last act concerns itself with the inevitable courtroom wrangling. Kearns' lawyer, played with terrific smugness by Alan Alda, ditches him years before the case ever gets to trial, and the by-now-impoverished inventor is forced to represent himself. The movie has fun with this, particularly when Kearns has to put himself on the stand. We're meant to root for him and marvel at his ingenuity in court as in his makeshift basement laboratory.
There's some redemption for him and his family, but everything doesn't turn out hunky-dory. A nearly 20-year legal war takes its toll. Flash of Genius is at its best when it recognizes that fact, and would have been better had it done more to acknowledge that whatever victory Kearns achieves has to be considered pyrrhic. The legal system doesn't let him down, exactly, but the price of vindicating his rights would have been too high for virtually everyone else. (Synopsis based on several reviews from the film festival viewing)
Watch the trailer at: http://www.flashofgenius.net/