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Universal Pictures

Master stroke

Movies | Film shows spark of innovation, fight for justice

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

Mark Abraham's Flash of Genius (rated PG-13 for brief strong language) is a throwback to Detroit's golden age when auto manufacturers ruled-but ran into trouble when they crossed Bob Kearns (Greg Kinnear), an engineering professor who invented the intermittent windshield wiper in the 1960s.

Before Kearns' invention, car windshield wipers couldn't pause: They could only go fast or slow. He had a "flash of genius" moment one night driving home in the rain, when he started to think about making a windshield wiper that could blink the way a human eye does. After tinkering in his basement awhile, Kearns built the intermittent wiper and went to Ford with his design.

Intermittent wipers based on Kearns' design went into millions of cars designed by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, yet none of them paid Kearns for his invention. He spent the rest of his life fighting to get credit and money for the wipers that are now standard in most modern automobiles.

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Kinnear ingrains his character with an emotional stability that supports the rest of the cast. Strong performances, helped by the retro 1960s and '70s design, bring the story to life. But Kearns' drive for legal justice cost him his marriage and tested his relationship with his six children. While his battle with auto manufacturers set a precedent for individuals who have been wronged to defend themselves in court, the tension in the film comes from what Kearns lost along the way.


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