Flash of Genius Directed by: Marc Abraham Cast: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda Time: 1 hr 59 mins Rating: PG-13
Plot: A small-town Michigan inventor’s idea for an intermittent windshield wiper is promptly gobbled up by the Ford Motor Company. Perpetually downtrodden, Robert Kearns risks everything (including his family) to take the automakers to court.
Who’s It For? Fans of the based on a true story genre who appreciate a filmmaker who can authentically encapsulate an era in the past. Anyone with relative interest in the time period that separated the optimism of the 1960s, and the self-absorbed 1980s should most definitely tune in.
Expectations: Early Oscar talk circulated the industry regarding Kinnear’s performance. A long-time producer who has had a hand in everything from The Hurricane to Dawn of the Dead, Marc Abraham makes his directorial debut with this feature.
Actors: Greg Kinnear as Bob Kearns: Had an opportunity to take his career to a new level, much in the way Russell Crowe did in A Beautiful Mind. The trouble is, Kinnear doesn’t so much capture the essence of Bob Kearns’ adamant case for justice as he intermittently flashes strokes of acting genius. When portraying a character as eccentric as Kearns was rumored to have been, you have got to be willing to show us more than occasional social awkwardness. Score: 5
Lauren Graham as Phyllis Kearns: The "Gilmore Girls" star had already portrayed a big screen wife in the morbidly underachieving Evan Almighty. With more to work with here, Graham gives us a pretty standard interpretation of a wife torn between her husband’s stubborn will and her undeniable love for him. Though her character’s limited by the screenwriter’s inability to develop any onscreen chemistry between a married couple, the actress is able to say more with silence than most could in such an underwritten role. Score: 6
Dermot Mulroney as Gil Privick: An adequate rendition of 1970s conservative Midwest ambition. Mulroney’s one-dimensional charm is as necessary in this role as in any of his previous cinematic efforts. He proves his worth as a dry character actor over his forgettable performances as a one-note leading man. Score: 8
Alan Alda as Gregory Lawson: His Midwestern accent fits like a glove. This character sharply contrasts Kinnear’s mugging, and lackadaisical delivery. Though only briefly onscreen, Alda’s Lawson has been developed far more convincingly than the bigger roles. A scene-stealing effort that showcases the feature’s best (albeit intermittent) flashes of genius. Score: 9
Talking: A crapshoot. Kinnear’s role was set up to be knocked out of the park, but he fouls off nearly every pitch. His inability to convincingly fit into Robert Kearns’ shoes is reciprocated by Mulroney’s calm handling of a role nobody was better suited for. That said, it seems certain roles were cast incorrectly, and this ultimately stifles the dialogue as a result of muffled character development. Even in the courtroom, when Kinnear gets a final chance to win us over, it’s impossible to deny the amount of dissatisfaction you feel when he’s finished. Score: 5
Sights & Sounds: A strong suit of the film. The blues and grays of greater Detroit are beatifically painted with gorgeous cinematography. The roaring engines of the boat-sized Mustangs Ford put out in the 70s sound like they are revving up in the theater. Rain certainly becomes a central character in this film as a visual representation of the roller coaster of moods throughout the picture. It’s rarely looked at as believable. Kinnear is never as convincing as when he’s standing in the downpour. It’s the essence of defeat. Score: 8
OVERALL Though there is momentary brilliance, these intermittent flashes are too few and far between to hold the film up as a whole. It’s difficult to tell which aspect is more disappointing: Kinnear’s underachievement as the film’s lead, or Marc Abraham’s inability to make us care about a man who single handedly took the Ford Motor Company down. What results from these jarring shortcomings is anything but a celebratory experience. Kearns’ family takes center stage throughout the film, but the cinematic explanations as to why we’re supposed to care are never fully expressed. The sad thing is, their story is as impressive a tale as you’re likely to see depicted on the big screen—All the more reason you’ll probably leave the theater as defeated as Kearns felt when his idea was taken from him.