This reality-based David vs. Goliath story shows how a determined college professor took on one of the most powerful corporations in the world: the Ford Motor Company.
Back in the 1960s, Wayne State University engineering teacher Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), working with a family friend, Gil Previck (Dermot Mulroney), invented the intermittent windshield wiper, a safety device utilizing three common electrical components — a capacitor, resistor and transistor — combined in unique manner that would eventually be used in cars around the world. Kearns developed his creation, “The Kearns Blinking Eye Motor,” and secured a patent — only to have it “stolen” by Ford.
Furious at the injustice, Dr. Kearns launched a relentless, decades-long campaign to receive credit for his invention and an apology — a persistent crusade for recognition that would eventually cost him his marriage, career and sanity. And as he doggedly went through a series of attorneys, including Gregory Lawson (Alan Alda), that took its toll on his wife (Lauren Graham) and six kids. Eventually, Kearns decided to represent himself, taking the case to trial.
Based on John Seabrook’s 1993 New Yorker profile, screenwriter Philip Railsback and first-time director Marc Abraham, this science/technology tale has a potential dramatic premise that’s never fully developed, although Greg Kinnear’s terrific as the obsessive Kearns. The phrase “flash of genius” refers to a 1941 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which states that in order for a creation to quality as an invention, the inventor “must reveal a flash of creative genius, not merely the skill of the calling” that said product. The ambiguity of the word “invention,” however, has been open to controversy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Flash of Genius” is a gratifying, stubborn 7, exploring the price of an underdog Everyman victory.