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Friday, October 3, 2008

Flash of Genius

October 3rd, 2008

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Marc Abraham (dir.)

Aaron Zigman (music)

Greg Kinnear as Bob Kearns

Lauren Graham as Phyllis Kearns

Dermot Mulroney as Gil Privick

Alan Alda as Gregory Lawson

Our reviews below:


Flash of Genius Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of four)

Flash of Genius tells the story of one man’s fight for ownership of his invention. The invention? Intermittent windshield wipers. All Robert Kearns wanted was Ford motors to acknowledge him for his work. What he got was a battle that cost him over 12 years of his life. His fight for the truth brings him farther from his wife, kids and sane mind. He almost becomes a stranger to himself and those around him.

Greg Kinnear plays him really well as someone who lets his work take over his life, but you still never stop cheering him on. It’s interesting that Greg Kinnear who has been really funny in comedies like Stuck on You, Little Miss Sunshine and the recent Ghost Town, is also really good in this low-key drama.

It is a drama, but it’s not depressing. There are even some laugh-out-loud moments. What makes it even more interesting, is that it’s based on a true story. I’m not going to say that it’s perfect, their could have been some improvements, but it’s still one of the better movies this year.

The closest things it could be compared to are October Sky and The Astronaut Farmer, two other movies about dreamers, who will stop at nothing to fulfill their dreams.

The question everyone will probably be asking is will it go up for any Oscars? The answer? Probably not Best Picture, but Greg Kinnear could easily get a best actor nomination.


Flash of Genius Review By Erin V.

**** (out of four)

The movie Flash of Genius is based on the true story of Robert Kearns - the inventor of the Intermittent Windshield Wiper. After reading the original article*, (written by John Seabrook for The New Yorker), that it was based on, I found that it was fairly close to reality. Robert Kearns, played in the movie by Greg Kinnear, has an idea for a ‘blinking eye wiper’. After his wiper design is stolen by the Ford Motor Corporation, he is determined to keep going with lawsuits to try to prove that they infringed on his patents. Unlike his invention that pauses, (blinks), every few seconds, Bob Kearns doesn’t take a break in thinking about his blinking eye wipers that Ford stole.

I really enjoyed this movie, which I found was very interesting to watch. (It is probably the best movie about windshield wipers that I have seen to date.) I had been waiting awhile to see this movie, and I’m glad that it met my expectations. After seeing the trailer a few months ago, this story had me hooked, and I knew that I would enjoy it even before I went in. Although I have no idea why, I had never actually looked up Robert Kearns’ name even after seeing the ‘based on a true story’ in the trailer. It was not until after the movie that I googled for the article that was mentioned in the credits. And I am glad that I didn’t check before, because it was more fun reading the article afterwards. It was after the movie that I really wanted to know more about this man and his wipers.

Watching this movie, I understood why this man would feel this way. Not only was his invention stolen from him, but no one else could understand why it mattered in the way that it did. It mattered, not because of the money involved, but because of the idea of right and wrong. His reasoning was that his rights as an inventor were denied, and Ford was wrong. He didn’t just want their money, he wanted them to admit that it was his invention. Interestingly enough, The New Yorker article really gives you a sense of both side’s points of view. Nobody wants to be wrong, or admit that they have done something they shouldn’t have, even Ford. Judging from the article, the real reason why big companies didn’t like this case is because once one person realizes that they can fight for their patents, everyone will want to. And today, in the 21st century, way more people can, (and do), fight and win these cases. Big companies don’t like that kind of thing. I guess in a way it frightens them, because they can’t just violate the patents and pay people off like they used to.

Overall, some people may find that this movie is at a bit of a slow pace, because it is. But nevertheless, I found it to be a good length, (approx. 2 hours), and at the best pace for the story. On a side note, the credits were going in and out focus, which was slightly strange, but overall this movie was well done.


Flash of Genius Review By Nicole

***1/2 (out of four)

Flash of Genius is based on the inspiring true story of Professor Bob Kearns, the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. The movie opens with a scene in which a despondent Kearns clutching a kite on a Greyhound bus while in his pyjamas. We wonder what he is doing here, and then the movie flashes back to a scene in which Kearns, driving home from church in the rain, realizes how inefficient the manuel wipers on his windshield really are. So, being an engineer and inventor, Kearns designs a new kind of windshield wiper that moves intermittently, and automatically. His family is proud of his accomplishment, and very supportive of his work. But when the windshield wiper is presented to Ford Motors, Ford claims the design as their own. The movie then moves through several years of Kearns’ unrelenting determination to try to claim back his ownership of the intermittent wiper blade. Kearns’ zeal to fight for what is right, as well as his refusal to give up, make Kearns a likable character for whom you will root for till the end. This is an inspirational movie about family, not giving up, and standing up for what is right.


Flash of Genius Review By Maureen

*** (out of four)

Flash of Genius is an intelligent, interesting movie. The fact that it was based on a true story made the movie all that more compelling for me.

It was interesting watching inventor Dr. Robert Kearns grow increasingly fixated and driven to fight the big automakers and be recognized as the original inventor of the intermittent wiper blade. Even when faced with his own mental health crisis and the disruption to his family, Dr. Kearns’ determination to stand up to what most would consider an undefeatable opponent was admirable.

Greg Kinnear’s portrayal of this unique, single-focused, black and white thinking man was excellent. It never felt like Kinnear was playing a caricature. Throughout the movie I truly cared about Dr. Robert Kearns and was always hopeful all his efforts would be worth it in the end. For the most part the movie moves along at a good pace and wisely keeps the focus mainly on Dr. Kearns. The best scenes in this movie take place in the courtroom with Dr. Kearns acting as his own legal counsel.

This is a story about standing up for yourself and what you perceive as right and never giving up. It left me thinking how many of us don’t do enough of that. Overall this was an enjoyable, thought-provoking film. It’s worth seeing.


Flash of Genius Review By Tony

*** (out of four)

In the 1960s Bob Kearns, a Detroit engineer, patented the simple electronic circuit that controls intermittent windshield wipers. With the help of his large family, he hoped to manufacture and sell it to automakers. Ford contracted to introduce it as an option, but they backed out once they had a look at his drawings. Months later, Kearns discovered that his circuit was being used in some Ford cars, and eventually in vehicles from all the auto companies, without recognizing his contribution. With the help of family members, Kearns, acting as his own lawyer, devoted the rest of his life to suing Ford and other companies for patent infringement, refusing on principle to ever settle out of court. Flash of Genius, based on a 1993 New Yorker article by John Seabrook, essentially follows this story with minor changes, shortening timelines and changing names.

As explained at length in the New Yorker article, Henry Ford hated paying royalties to patent holders that just sat back while he actually produced the goods, reminiscent of today’s patents on some RIM software. Ford preferred to buy ideas outright, which is why square hole Robertson screws are still almost unknown in the U.S. Robertson would not sell out to Ford, who then went over to Phillips with his inferior cross head. Ford always preferred in house production to outside suppliers, making their own steel and glass, for example. The control circuit for wipers was so simple in hindsight that Ford tried to argue that anyone could have come up with it.

The film opens with a disheveled and confused Kearns being escorted off a bus by police. It then flashes back three years. Kearns is taking the collection in his church with his large family looking on. Driving home through a light rain, he wonders why wipers need to stay on all the time. That night he starts tinkering with a solution. The next day he introduces himself to a new class of engineering students with a message on ethics. The rest of the story plays out as above.

Greg Kinnear does a solid job bringing out the stress on Kearns and his family as the years of obsessive litigation go on. Alan Alda is fine as a patent lawyer who starts out on the inventor’s side but is dumped by Kearns when he advocates an out of court settlement instead of years of litigation. Despite sleazy Ford executives and a fixer who keeps showing up with increasing offers, Kearns is never threatened physically, so any sense of danger, such as in films like Michael Clayton, is never present.

Having myself been born in Hamilton and an engineering student in Toronto in the 60s & 70s, I enjoyed recognizing the local scenes that passed for Detroit, notably the Toronto City Hall standing in for Ford headquarters. Though cars were contemporary, the heavies smoked and styles of dress such as eyeglasses changed for major characters as years went on, there were some anachronisms. The engineering class scene showed females in a minority–in fact in the 60s they would have been all but nonexistent. Phyllis Kearns, the long suffering wife played by Lauren Graham, hardly seemed to age at all. As a final irritant, the closing credits, perhaps to evoke a wet windshield, kept going in and out of focus.


Consensus: Good story with excellent acting by Greg Kinnear. ***1/2 (out of four)

Flash of Genius is based on The New Yorker Article Flash of Genius by: John Seabrook

*By googling the name Robert Kearns you get all kinds of results. One of the most interesting is the article that the movie was based on. It’s from The New Yorker and is written by John Seabrook. Here’s the link.


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