Release Date: February 17, 2009
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Mitch Pileggi and Alan Alda
Written by: Philip Railsback
Based Upon the 1993 New Yorker Article by John Seabrook
Directed by: Marc Abraham
Flash of Genius wants with all its might to be an important social drama, but it unfortunately falls far short of that goal. The film is loosely based on the true story of Robert Kearns, who invented the intermittent windshield wiper but wound up in a David versus Goliath struggle against Ford and Chrysler when they used his invention without crediting or paying him. This is a story we’ve seen before in many forms – possibly the most memorable being Tucker: The Man and His Dream. And it can be said that Greg Kinnear does channel a bit of Jeff Bridges in his performance here. But the film simply doesn’t reach deep enough or high enough to elicit more than mild disappointment. The script is uncertain what story it’s telling, and Marc Abraham’s direction is equally unfocused. This leaves the cast floating without an anchor through an abbreviated version of Kearns’ story. On multiple occasions, characters seem to switch their loyalties without any examination of what this means to the story or the underlying themes that should be at work. (As one example, Alan Alda plays in two scenes as an attorney trying to help Kearns. In the first, he comes across just as earnest and as morally affronted as Kearns about the situation. In the second scene, his character turns 180 degrees and begins attacking Kearns. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to this other than to stack the deck against Kearns. And yet, the film would have us believe that Kearns’ legal issues were resolved in a few years, when the real man fought in court for over fifteen years...) I would love to write that this is an uplifting family drama – it certainly is trying to be one, but it just doesn’t pull it off. I must acknowledge the work that went into this film, but I advise people interested in this subject to look up John Seabrook’s 1993 article for the New Yorker magazine for a much clearer picture.
Universal has released this film on DVD this week in a simple edition, with a director’s commentary and about four minutes of deleted scenes for extra features.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
Flash of Genius is presented in an anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that showcases the muted hues of Dante Spinotti’s cinematography. There are some fairly nice textures throughout, from the various coat fabrics worn by Greg Kinnear throughout to the darker and thicker suits worn by his opponents in the film. There are many scenes with visible rain (both real and CGI), and they come through clearly here.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Flash of Genius is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English and Spanish that delivers the dialogue clearly in the front channels and pushes much of the rain and the music to the real channels. This is a perfectly serviceable mix, with the occasional use of the subwoofer for thunder or the like.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2/5
Flash of Genius contains two special features: a commentary track with director Mark Abraham and about four minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary.
Director’s Commentary by Marc Abraham – This scene-specific commentary with Marc Abraham is fairly bland, although it clarifies that the film’s problems may have gotten completely past the director. In discussing Alan Alda’s scenework, he notes that the attorney’s chastisements of Kearns are correct, but fails to note the manner in which they’ve been presented, which paints the character as a villalin. He offers some observations about making the movie on a low budget in Canada, occasionally hitting home with some of them.
Deleted Scenes – (4:06, Non-Anamorphic) - A few minutes of deleted scenes are presented here, with the option of viewing them with commentary by Abraham. These are all non-essential bits that go on for a little more than 30 seconds at a time.
When the first disc is put into the machine, a pair of non-anamorphic trailers are presented for Changeling and Role Models, followed by an anamorphic trailer for Dark Matter, the full-frame anti- smoking ad, and non-anamorphic trailers for Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.0, Milk and The Tale of Despereaux.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the deleted scenes. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
IN THE END...
Flash of Genius certainly tries to make an impression as a serious film about an inventor fighting for his work. But it just doesn’t come together, and the director’s commentary confirms that a big part of the problem here was a lack of focus. At the same time, it’s a nice looking movie with a perfectly acceptable video and audio transfer. Fans of Greg Kinnear and Lauren Graham may want to rent this for a family movie night.
February 19, 2009.