Flash of Genius
Starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham. Directed by Marc Abraham. Released by Universal, $29.98. ***
Flash of Genius is a lot of things, all of them admirable. It's a film about ingenuity and inspiration. It's a film about dreamers who refuse to quit and about righteous men who stubbornly insist on doing the right thing, regardless of the cost. It's a film about fathers trying to instill their sense of morality in their children and not giving up when that proves difficult or inconvenient.
Greg Kinnear plays Bob Kearns, an engineer and amateur inventor whose flash of genius - some might call it a moment of inspiration - results in his invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. That may not seem like such a big deal today, but in the 1960s, when car windshields would get streaky during light rain, the invention was huge - so huge that auto manufacturers stole Kearns' idea and made it standard equipment on their cars.
The process of invention takes up maybe a third of this film, maybe less. What concerns Flash of Genius most is Kearns' struggle for credit, not riches; he turns down plenty of opportunities for money. But what Kearns can't countenance is having been wronged so cavalierly by people who fail to see the moral depravity in what they did. So he spends years fighting the good fight, arguing that the automakers need to admit what they did, positing himself as the ultimate little guy standing up to the biggest of big guys.
Kinnear is wonderful as Kearns, playing him as both obsessed and myopic, while also moral and even selfless. Kearns understands he's obsessed, crazed and stubborn. Honestly, he doesn't see any alternative.
Though Lauren Graham is wasted as his long-suffering wife, Phyllis, Flash of Genius stands as testimony to the difference one committed man can make, even if no one outside of himself and his family understands that difference.
Also in stores today: : Angelina Jolie scored a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Changeling (Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray $39.95), playing a mother whose kidnapped son is returned to her, except that she's convinced he's not her son, but an impostor. The film is based on a true story that dominated the news for a few years in the 1920s.
Other releases: : Those cute, wholesome, singing and dancing kids are back in High School Musical 3: Senior Year Extended Edition (Walt Disney Video, $34.99; Blu-ray $39.95); acerbic comedian Bill Maher takes on organized religion in Religulous (Lionsgate, $29.95); and Paul Newman stars in a film debut even he urged people not to watch, 1954's The Silver Chalice (Warner Home Video, $19.98).