After working out the design in his basement - aided by a brood of scrappy kids - and partnering with a friend (Dermot Mulroney) with industry contacts, Kearns presented his invention to the R&D gang at Ford Motors. Things looked promising: Hands were shaken, papers drawn up, space rented where Kearns planned to assemble the wiper systems and supply them to the company. Then . . . then, nothing. Ford wasn't interested any longer, no reason given.
Dreams dashed, Kearns returned to teaching. A couple of years later, as veteran producer/first-time director Marc Abraham tells it in his surprisingly compelling film, Ford put a new intermittent wiper system in its 1969 Mustangs.
Yes, folks, Flash of Genius - a drama about patent infringement!
It is also about a guy who suffers a nervous breakdown, whose marriage falls apart (Lauren Graham is the devoted wife), who hires lawyers, fires lawyers, and perseveres, despite wrecking his life and alienating his kids, battling Ford's phalanx of attorneys and finally, getting his day in court.
The little guy fighting the system, it's downright Capraesque, and Kinnear brings heartbreak and poignancy to the job. There are moments, when Kearns' sanity is in question, where the actor projects mental fragility with just the, well, blink of an eye. And there are moments when Kearns' insanity is not in question - he's clearly gone off the deep end, swimming in paranoia and despair.
It's these unexpectedly dark scenes that balance the more upbeat, formulaic elements that typically illustrate a great American inventor tale.
Flash of Genius has its corn, its conflation, its composite characters. (It also has one great courtroom scene, involving testimony of a Ford engineer and a copy of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities.) But Kinnear does what he's done in the past: You underestimate the guy's acting chops, and suddenly, strikingly, he floors you.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org..