Kinnear's Flash of Genius

Greg Kinnear explores the costs of fighting for justice.

“Oftentimes, these kinds of stories are about someone fighting the system in this giant way---plutonium in the water or nuclear reactors gone bad---but here,” said Marc Abraham, the writer/director of Flash of Genius, “you can dismiss the idea and hopefully go, for me, deeper about justice and principle and the cost of that battle.”The idea, in this instance, is the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper. Detroit inventor Bob Kearns (Greg Kinnear in the film) saw the need for a windshield wiper that could vary its speed based on the intensity of the rain, so he built one. In the ’50s, Detroit was still America’s auto mecca, and Kearns managed to sell his idea to Ford, which then backed out of the deal and put the wiper on its cars anyway. So Kearns fought them---all he wanted was credit, all they offered was money. Eventually he defended himself in court and was awarded almost $30 million from Ford and Chrysler, but at the expense of his marriage and six kids.“He does not compromise with Ford, he compromises his family,” said Kinnear during the Toronto International Film Festival. “Quite often this kind of character is this hero guy who takes on a corporation. He was painted in the script as a very human guy, he really had plenty of human characteristics. Talking to his family and looking at him, he seemed like a decent guy, but in the script he becomes increasingly stubborn and untrusting and kind of obsessive. And I think those manifestations came out of what happened to him. I think what had been taken from him was causing this behaviour that gets increasingly unforgivable in the story. And at the same time, I always found myself wanting the best for him. I wanted him to find satisfaction. And it’s an ambiguous ending, I’m not sure that he ever does---I know, just talking to his family, they would agree that he never found it---but I wanted him to.”“To me it was a portrait of a marriage that had been functioning and takes a wrong turn,” said Lauren Graham, who plays Kearns’ wife Phyllis. “I think they both tried for a long period of time to keep it together, and it’s like there was a third person introduced, and that person was the obsession.”“What I loved about this,” said Alan Alda, who has a couple key scenes as the Kearns’ lawyer, “is where Greg’s character finds out that you don’t get justice in an ideal way, in a situation---you don’t get them to admit they harmed you---you just get money. I was in my 20s when I had that same lesson. Someone had wronged me and we were about to go to court, and I wanted it to be spelled out that they wronged me. Instead of that the lawyer said, ‘No, no, no you get money---that’s justice.’ And it was just a horrible realization, and I wanted to be the guy who says that!” He laughs. “It’s such an awful moment when you hear it, but that’s the stark reality.”“I’ve never been someone who looked at things in black and white in life,” said Abraham, a veteran producer making his directorial debut. “I’ve never found that to be true, and it’s the grey areas of life that are important to observe and accept. In this film what we were all trying to do---every character, what they say, you can make a justification for. In terms of what Alan’s talking about with his character, everything he said in that one moment comes true. ‘Your hair’s gonna turn grey, you’re not gonna get any closer to justice.’ That’s true. It’s very, very, very rare that the moments come with great clarity where you’re right and everybody else is wrong. It doesn’t work that way.”

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