May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 16 October 2008 13:28
Each week, the Reel Dad looks for a film for parents to share with children. Some of the reviewed films are new; some are classics; all are selected for their “nutritional value” as part of a family’s movie experience. This week, the Reel Dad takes a look at a new film, Flash of Genius.
As parents, we try to teach our children the difference between right and wrong. We try to help them understand why it’s important for people to take a stand, express a point of view, and engage in discussion. And we hope that they grow into adults who do not run from a challenge, fear a bully, or avoid necessary confrontation.
Flash of Genius, a new family drama starring Greg Kinnear, can help any parent explain some of these issues to their older children. This likable story of a man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper — only to have his invention stolen by a major automaker — could have disintegrated into a preachy reporting of the efforts of one man to confront big business. Its character study could have been buried by a sea of obvious screen clichés of how a dedicated whistle blower sacrifices everything to take on a corporation. And its compelling message of right vs. wrong could have been overwhelmed by a heavy-handed approach to the lead chartacter’s righteousness. Fortunately, the film steers clear of all these potential potholes.
Thanks in great measure to the appeal of Kinnear, an underrated actor who improves with every performance, and down-to-earth direction by first timer Marc Abraham, Flash of Genius avoids most of the pitfalls of this type of film. Instead it offer an interesting human portrait of one man, for better, or for worse, who puts his life on the line because he believes he has been wronged.
Whether motivated by vanity or ambition or principle, this modern-day hero is not perfect: He neglects his family; he disappoints his employer; he avoids his critics; he stretches the truth. But he never loses his focus on a fundamental life lesson: No one makes right from wrong without effort, sacrifice and grit.
The film could easily have gone in another direction. Philip Railsback’s script contains every possible element of a cloying tale, from the overly cute kids to the overly supportive spouse (nicely played by ex-Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham) to the one-dimensional portrayal of the bad guys to the showdown against corporate greed in a courtroom. But instead of letting the obvious drown the meaningful, Flash of Genius emerges from the potential suds to paint an authentic picture of how anyone can believe in what’s right, and how easy it can be to shut everything out beyond the cause for justice.
What makes the film work is Kinnear. This intensely likable performer has, in recent years, developed into a reliable character actor who never fails to command screen attention with excellent performances in small, personal projects. Here the former Oscar nominee (for As Good As It Gets) and talk show host creates a three-dimensional portrayal of a driven man who believes that being right is right enough. Without overplaying the heroics, Kinnear lets the character’s weaknesses show as brightly as his ideals, effectively internalizing the man’s ambitions, beautifully portraying the man’s disappointments. The actor subdues his engaging personality for the sake of the performance, the film and the message.
As parents, we try to teach our kids to stand up for what they believe. Ultimately, that’s all that Kinnear’s character wants. Of the juries who might determine his fate, the one that carries the greatest weight is his family. Like any father, he simply wants his kids to be proud of dad. And they will.
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