Oscar, are you paying attention?
As Robert Kearns, a Detroit professor and father of six who invented the intermittent windshield wiper only to have the invention stolen by Ford, Hoosier native and previous Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear gives the best performance of his career and 2008's first award-worthy performance.
"Flash of Genius" is about Kearns' journey for far more than money could buy...Kearns sought justice and an acknowledgement by Ford that Kearns was the rightful inventor. Kearns's fight for justice would involve years of appeals, a mental breakdown, the loss of his marriage and isolation from his children.
While "Flash of Genius" is a flawed film, mostly due to director Marc Abraham's little screen approach to this big screen story, Kinnear's performance transcends the film and is a shining example of the power of silence in acting. Kinnear plays Kearns with stark honesty, a performance lacking in histrionic highs and lows. Instead, Kinnear's Kearns exists as a man whose very soul seems to have been wounded by this unethical betrayal. Kinnear's performance isn't about the words and actions of Kearns, but rather the silent gestures, body language, visual communications and, at times, heartbreaking guttural sighs.
While Kinnear's performance is less tragic, it brings to mind that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote," a performance that achieved brilliance because of Hoffman's ability to rest quietly inside the psyche' of Capote. Kinnear accomplishes the same here, and while the circumstances aren't nearly as dramatic one can't help but become enraptured by this little, haltingly spoken college professor who does the unthinkable and takes on a Detroit behemoth.
Given the current state of corporate America, "Flash of Genius" may very well piss you off as it reminds you that to this day we continue to rescue big business failures who would think nothing of destroying our credit and sending us off to the poor farm were the situation reversed.
While the supporting roles aren't nearly as well drawn out as that of Kearns, Alan Alda shines as a lawyer who manages to earn a bit of Kearns' trust, and Lauren Graham does a nice job as Kearns' largely abandoned wife.
Tech credits are solid, if not particularly up to the level of Kinnear's performance.
Had the film itself come together as nicely as Kinnear's performance, there would simply be no doubt about the inevitability of an Oscar nomination for Kinnear. As it is, it would be yet another gross injustice if Kinnear were to be ignored come this awards season. Rather surprisingly, "Flash of Genius" is being released by Universal Pictures so that if Oscar doesn't come calling an Independent Spirit nomination is out of the question.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic