Film Review: Jobs

by Chad Liffmann on August 17, 2013

“Jobs” is uninspired and constantly misses the mark…unlike Steve Jobs.

Ashton Kutcher does a serviceable impersonation, including a Jobs pose.

Ashton Kutcher does a serviceable impersonation, including a Jobs pose.

Most of us know about Apple, Inc.  If you were born in the early 80s, you may even remember many of the corporate controversies, lawsuits, etc. that Apple had to trudge through before profitability in the late 90s.  If you were born later, it’s likely you’ve heard of these events, anyway.  We also have an appreciation for the design, innovation, and use of their products and show it by making purchases.  When we purchase an Apple product, we are acknowledging the brilliant mind for business and technological innovation that Steve Jobs had.  But acknowledgement is one thing, and understanding is another, and what most of us don’t know and can’t find through a simple Google search, is extensive information about the man himself and why he did what he did.  Jobs, the new biopic starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, does not shed any light on the subject, instead giving us a standard (and repetitious) timeline of the company…which isn’t that interesting on screen.

The film begins with an Apple staff meeting in 2001.  Here we get our first look at the caricature of Steve Jobs this movie will henceforth stick to, as Kutcher strolls onto the stage and reveals the iPod, a game changer indeed.  But we are immediately whisked back to the late 70s, where Jobs has dropped out of college and with his pal, Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas), engage in hippie activities like getting high in a field and losing themselves in a spiritual trip to India.  It’s not entirely clear what Jobs gains from these experiences, but he seems to return with the determination to make better computer products than everyone else, including his own colleagues at Atari, and later Apple.  With the engineering aid of co-Apple founder Steve Wozniak (an impressive Josh Gad), Steve and Steve create the Apple I and take off from there.  Around this early point, we’re treated to one seemingly crucial moment of personal anguish where Steve Jobs is put in a position to travel a very different path from the one he’s on.  It’s the perfect chance for the film to dive into deeper personal themes, but it takes the easy way out…by more or less ignoring it and skips on ahead in time.  At this juncture, I realized that I’d be getting the lunch guest tour of this story.

I was first reluctant to believe Ashton Kutcher could be the right man for the…well…Jobs.  It was with genuine astonishment then, that Kutcher handled the role quite well, even going so far as to really impress in pivotal scenes.  However, not for lack of talent, but for lack of a good script, did his performance seem to fall short of astounding and land at serviceable.  Jobs keeps the story at arms length, never reaching for deeper meaning or significance within Jobs’ life-changing events.  The movie prides itself on showing us the early Apple computer models, snippets from the famous ‘1984’ super bowl ad and other commercials, and impressive 1970s to 1980s set and costume designs beneath a phenomenal soundtrack.  But like the common argument used by many Mac haters… the product is all style and no substance.

In The Social Network, we’re given a quasi-fictional tale of resentment, loneliness, friendship, and social status in which the actions of Mark Zuckerberg are well-founded.  Whether it’s true or not, it’s very believable, and more importantly, makes for a compelling storyline that still manages to celebrate the man.  To concentrate a film about Steve Jobs’ exploits with the reasoning being that he knew what the world desired, is like trying to convince people that Joe Montana played football just because he knew he was good at it.  Where’s the passion?  I can’t imagine that Steve Jobs was as one-noted as the film makes him to be.  I wanted to like the character but he kept getting mad at people at work for not being as forward-thinking as himself.  Were these really the only moments within a thirty year span worth depicting in a biopic?  I sincerely doubt it.  How about his failing health, for starters?  Maybe mention Pixar? Nothing.

Jobs would still be considered a decent movie if it weren’t for a subject matter that demands (and deserves) more.  As it stands, it may be more worth your while to check out the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, if your intention is to arrive at a better understanding of the man.  Or you could watch a series of YouTube videos of his numerous talks (including some depicted in Jobs) if your intention is to see the evolution of a public-facing figurehead.  The point being, Jobs doesn’t give us anything that we couldn’t get ourselves.  The film’s timeline structure is underwhelming, its characters are stuck in caricature mode, and like the man himself, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, it ends prematurely with an abundance of heavy-hearted speculation.

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Jobs opens in Bay Area theaters on Friday, August 16, 2013.

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