Published Oct 02, 2008Taking a typical humdrum underdog biopic and injecting some topical significance and mild corporate and political subversion, Flash of Genius is sure to please most demographics with an entirely relatable battle and a slick commercial vision that has a little edge. While occasionally sluggish and saddled with "mainstream cornball humour, it does manage to hit the right notes at the right moments, which should more than compensate for any shortcomings to a less discerning audience.
This is the true story of Dr. Bob Kearns (Greg Kinnear), an engineering professor who invented the intermittent windshield wiper only to have the idea stolen by the Ford Corporation. Understandably pissed, Kearns slowly drives himself insane while trying to battle a company that couldnt care less about ethics. While the battle gives him purpose, it simultaneously drives away his best friend Gil (Dermot Mulroney) and more importantly, his caring and supportive wife Phyllis (Lauren Graham) and their children.
Despite numerous offers of settlement from Ford, Dr. Kearns fights a moral battle of right and wrong that spans over 12 years and costs him invaluable time with his developing family.
Identifying with the plight of Bob Kearns is entirely logical, given the widely known corporate tendency to behave like a psychopath on a mass scale and the natural human anxieties surrounding powerlessness. An institution that rewards assimilation and manipulation in the name of cost-cutting measures is easy to hate and Flash of Genius is aware of this, as well as the current political climate.
What might be more fascinating than the film itself is that part of the very audience that cheers for Dr. Kearns victory will run out and vote blue, ultimately giving the cinematically vilified entities the power and motivations that caused the conflict and frustrations in the first place.
Underdog stories have been done to death but there is an intelligence and awareness on display here that makes the predictability and manufactured sentiments worth trudging through. There is a certain degree of catharsis in collectively flipping the bird to decimated, passionless, sociopathic and smug corporate cogs. (Universal)