Jobs (2013) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some drug content and brief language
Running time: 128 min.
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, Ron Eldard, Victor Rasuk, Lesley Ann Warren, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Dunn, John Getz
Small role: James Woods, Masi Oka, Samm Levine, Joel Murray, William Mapother
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Screenplay: Matt Whitely
Review published August 31, 2013
Jobs is a biopic concerning visionary tech giant Steve Jobs (Kutcher, No Strings Attached), starting with his college years, in which he dropped out but kept auditing creative studies classes, through his early years at Atari, and finally starting up the company that would become one of the most profitable of the modern day, Apple Computers. We see his early travels around the world looking for meaning to life, and also his friendship-turned-partnership with the highly gifted software engineer, Steve 'Woz' Wozniak (Gad, The Internship), with whom he would found Apple utilizing his prototype computer that could be hooked up to TV sets.
Recruiting some of their buddies, and securing a deal with a local computer/electronics store owner, and later, investor Mike Markkula (Mulroney, Stoker), the men set about taking Apple from the garage start-up to its own corporation. The film also explores how Jobs' passion for perfection and style over utility makes the board of directors, as well as Jobs' handpicked CEO John Sculley (Modine, The Dark Knight Rises), so nervous, they try to box him out of the decision-making process altogether.
Those looking for director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote, Never Was) to do for the story of Steve Jobs what David Fincher's The Social Network did for another tech iconoclast, Mark Zuckerberg, will be woefully disappointed, as Stern films a series of dramatic pieces of Jobs' life without any true overriding theme to wrap around other than his uncompromising commitment to making the best products on the market, sometimes to the detriment of their marketability. It also doesn't cover much around just who Steve Jobs is, and what makes him tick, not looking at all at his childhood upbringing or familial connections, other than a few sparse scenes involving his illegitimate child and romantic affairs that hold very little impact to the rest of the story.
It feels like a condensed checklist of events that occurred in the development of Apple as a company, and not even all of them (the film ignores anything developed beyond the launch of the iPod in 2001), as it leaves quite a few gaps in its storytelling. It covers the fact that he had relationships, but not what they meant to him. He has children, but little connection is drawn except that, at one time, he felt like the possibility of having a family was an inconvenience he was not going to entertain, regardless of how horrible his rebuke would seem to the woman he leaves to raise his child, and the daughter who would, for much of her childhood, be without a father. And no talk of the fight with pancreatic cancer that eventually did him in.
The moments of drama are often intriguing, but as a whole, the film lacks the thematic underpinnings to give weight to anything we're watching to sustain an interest in it as a film other than what we already bring in to it. On occasion, Stern attempts to draw in some sort of spiritual/emotional scenes to punctuate Jobs' journey, starting with his trip to India, and later in the film, his wrangling for his self-identity while doing a bit of gardening in his expansive back yard. While these scenes do break up the more straightforward bulk of rest of the film, they seem out of place and consequently of little interest to the story of Apple, as we are only shown who Jobs is by what Jobs has done, and we don't see the inward connection other than perhaps a case of an OCD drive for perfection.
Even if the story doesn't run along a central theme, sometimes a biopic can get by if it can tie up the story threads with a thematically poignant ending. This is where Jobs falls short in particular, as it doesn't even feel like it has a traditional ending, leaving the audience with just a collection of anecdotal incidents in Jobs' career that build up and let us off at a midway stopping point in which Jobs finally has the reins on his company he'd been denied all along, but still doesn't give us the benefit of seeing the successful fruits of his labor (i.e, kicking off the smartphone and tablet revolutions). Perhaps with a poignant moment or montage in which it is shown how much Jobs' efforts have produced devices that have changed the way we all communicate, we'd walk out of the theater with something deeper to ponder than just Kutcher's better-than-expected performance, some decent dramatic re-enactments, and interesting period garb and hairdos.
Ashton Kutcher does a fine, though less than truly remarkable jobs as Jobs, concentrating on his mannerisms and movement perhaps a little too much to avoid caricature. There are many scenes of Kutcher trying to emulate the distinctive Steve Jobs gait -- perhaps 10% of the entire film consists of tracking shots, many from behind, of Jobs walking down hallways, across rooms, across campuses, across stages, through fields, etc. It's uncertain why Stern chooses to showcase his walking so prominently, other than perhaps to have some 'action' and movement on the screen in what would probably have ended up being mostly a talking-head marathon. Nevertheless, though he would initially seem an improbable fit, once you get used to Kutcher's delivery, he embodies the man he's portraying well enough to suspend disbelief. The supporting cast is also quite good, with Gad endearing as the loveable Woz, and Dermot Mulroney giving some memorable nuance a smaller role as Marrkula.
For those curious about Steve Jobs, Apple, or just the growth of the technology industry in general, Jobs provides just enough fodder to maintain a general interest as a docudrama to garner a recommendation. It isn't particularly flashy or profound, but it is a respectable effort that probably would have made for a very interesting and possibly acclaimed cable TV mini-series, which is where it should have been developed in order to explore far more than just the surface of this highly popular company or its complex, cult-like leader driven to make his products a magical experience for its consumers. As it feels like a made-for-TV release, it will likely play better on the small screen, so I think many will be surprised to learn that the film had been mostly panned, and quite harshly, by critics at the time of its release.
Jobs doesn't really delve deeply enough to make us understand the man whose name is the title of the film, or just why he would become the uncompromisingly relentless industry leader. It also only dabbles with Jobs' darker side, showing him as often prickly (and occasionally prone to tantrums and primal screams) and blind to the emotional needs and well-being of others, especially his subordinates who dare to see things differently (ironic that "Think Different" had been Apple's motto for many years), to the detriment of his own friendships and personal life.
As a major motion picture release, it does have a rough-draft, rushed-to-theaters feel, but, it's an easy watch, if not illuminating, and worth a look for those interested in the subject matter. However, while it is a decent encapsulation of Apple's infancy and subsequent maturity, if you are looking for a source to tell you more about the man (and the myth) of Steve Jobs, you'll have to look elsewhere. Jobs, the man, was a brilliant man with many flaws; Jobs, the movie, has many flaws, but lacks the brilliance worthy of the man.
©2013 Vince Leo