Wipe your windshield

Movie ••• Picture ••• Sound •••• Extras ••½
Is it possible to create high drama from the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper? Against all odds, first-time director Marc Abraham mostly succeeds at this task with Flash of Genius, the true story of Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), a Detroit engineer who perfected this essential bit of technology - only to see Ford steal it from him outright.

The early scenes are especially effective, including Kearns's Eureka! moment and a remarkably vivid depiction of family life, 1960s style. But the movie runs into trouble with Kearns's woeful decision to devote himself to getting due credit from Ford through the legal system. Why did he give up everything - including that lovely family - for a mere principle? The movie doesn't really tell us, but then that's the trouble with true stories: Real life is messy and inexplicable, and it doesn't always make for satisfying cinema. Abraham found inspiration for his visual style in the movies of the '70s, avoiding the extreme close-ups of today in favor of a more subtle, low-key approach, which gives Flash of Genius something of a classic feel. That should have translated well to this DVD-only release, but the disc sometimes lacks sharpness and detail. Dialogue is clear and focused, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pleasingly peppered with pop hits of the day. But the meager extras - a few deleted scenes and a low-key director's commentary - fall short. A documentary on Kearns would have been a treat after watching the fictionalized version of his life.