Oddly, several of the actors in this engrossing new film are reminiscent of other actors. Greg Kinnear, in an impressive performance , seems like a cross between Jack Lemmon and William H. Macy in the way he embodies a sort of likable, game, beaten-down Everyman. Lauren Graham, in a subtle, finely modulated turn as his almost-too-saintly wife, resembles Marcia Gay Harden. In a small role as an affable but ultimately crafty lawyer, Alan Alda looks uncannily like Bob Newhart in his later years. All of them, plus a host of others, are excellent. The story, a true tale, is adapted from a New Yorker article by John Seabrook. Kinnear stars as Robert Kearns, a Detroit engineering professor who invents the intermittent windshield wiper in the 1960s. He patents his idea and, lured by fantasies of fame and fortune, attempts to sell it to Ford — but with the proviso that he be the manufacturer. Ford steals the patent and unceremoniously dumps Kearns. The professor — a hitherto easygoing family man with six kids — spends the next dozen or so years obsessively trying to sue Ford, refusing the corporation's offers of a settlement because he wants not just money but, more important, Ford's admission that Kearns was the inventor of the device. Eventually Kearns even represents himself in court, as lawyers — disgusted with his refusal to settle — drop the case. Along the way, Kearns has a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized, and his family falls apart under the strain of his obstinate, single-minded quest. It's an interesting look at the ultimate costs of the drive for success, for recognition, for the feeling you've left your mark on the world. Kinnear, whose mobile, anxious face dominates in just about every shot, is enormously effective and affecting. With his wrinkled brow, under-eye pouches, and sad-sack air, he is able to project conflicting emotions simultaneously: hope and fear, joy and anxiety. It's an intense yet low-key performance, not even marred by a distractingly phony-looking wig in the earlier scenes. And most of the supporting players are terrific too, from the poker-faced white men in suits to Kearns' kids. The only weak link, castwise, is London Angelis as Kearns' longtime friend who acts as his agent in the initial negotiations with Ford; Angelis is so wooden and opaque as to throw the story line slightly out of whack, especially with his weird habit of staring fixedly and unblinkingly, for no apparent purpose. The script jumps over several years here and there in its attempt to cover the span of Kearns' trajectory, and the result is that some basic information is lost. But in the end, even at two hours, the film is deeply involving. This is a sure-fire Oscar nomination for the talented Kinnear.
Genre: Drama. Written by: Philip Railsback. Directed by: Marc Abraham. Starring: Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, London Angelis.