- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008

“Most crusader stories, David and Goliath stories, are stories about someone who was fighting a battle of really critical importance,” explains Marc Abraham, director of “Flash of Genius.” “You’re saving a town from perishing because the water has been filtrated with too much Mercury or Plutonium. That has its own weight.

“But when you have a guy whose story is about the intermittent windshield wiper, you really have to eliminate what it is he’s doing,” Mr. Abraham says. Instead, you have to focus on the man and what he hopes to accomplish. “It’s a story about injustice; it’s about principle.”

The story in question is that of Robert Kearns, the man who invented that intermittent windshield wiper. Starring Greg Kinnear as Robert and Lauren Graham (“The Gilmore Girls”) as his long-suffering wife, “Flash of Genius” is a movie about a man who is hard to like chasing after a principle that is hard to understand.

“I thought what was interesting and challenging about this man’s story was that he is not this perfect hero at all, by any stretch,” says Mr. Kinnear. “If anything, he’s got a kind of gruffness, stubbornness, distrustfulness … In spite of all of those things, you ultimately want him to find the satisfaction that he’s looking for.”

That satisfaction is the credit Mr. Kearns thinks he deserves for inventing a new type of windshield wiper. After Ford steals his idea, he engages in a decades-long battle through the court system, culminating in a judgment that announced the automobile industry stole his idea (and awarded him tens of millions of dollars, to boot).

“With any great challenge, you leave a lot on the table,” Mr. Kinnear says, alluding to the fact that Bob’s struggle cost him his marriage, alienated his children and briefly caused a mental breakdown. “I love the idea of cost,” says Mr. Abraham. “If you go up and fight some giant force, some superior force, you’re not going to do it unscathed.”

Whether audiences will be able to sympathize with Robert Kearns and his monomaniacal goal is another question entirely; years of courtroom procedurals about matters of life and death - “Michael Clayton,” “Erin Brockovich,” etc. - might make “Flash of Genius” seem slight by comparison.

“I strongly believe that you have to fight for what you believe in,” says Mr. Abraham, and for him, the story is about more than one man’s fight against the system; it’s about keeping the system from squashing all such men.

It isn’t easy to portray such a struggle on the big screen, but Mr. Abraham and Mr. Kinnear do a good job of breathing life into Mr. Kearn’s dogged resolve - and the price he paid for living up to his principles.

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