Movie review: Jobs
Steve Jobs gets the big-screen treatment with surprisingly competent performance by Ashton Kutcher
Posted: August 21, 2013
Holding the world in his hands. Steve Jobs, a kind of "prime mover" of the digital world, spent a great deal of his life in a bubble with space for no one else.
Jobs was never going to be a hit with the Apple fans. Making a movie about one of the few undeniable visionaries of the past century, someone who made computers cool and whose products are used on a daily basis by hundreds of millions of people, was going to be a problem because the man is so revered. And casting the lead of Dude, Where's My Car? was going to be a tough sell, to say the least.
Director Joshua Michael Stern, who has only made two other feature films (his last one was the unexceptional Kevin Costner pic Swing Vote), is definitely no Steve Jobs, but with Jobs he has managed to exceed the expectations of all the naysayers out there who said it couldn't be done.
The film opens at the 2001 unveiling of the iPod at the Apple Town Hall, where it takes the camera a long time to let us see the man as a whole. We get him in fragments, from up close to far away from the back of the auditorium, but while we wait, the movements and the voice bear such a striking resemblance to the Jobs we have come to know over time that the effect on us is uncanny if not overwhelming. The music, here as elsewhere in the film, is composed with calculation, but it is stirring and absolutely effective, and when we finally get to see him properly, it feels like we're right there at one of his famous Stevenotes.
The rest of the film covers the three decades prior to this launch that repositioned Apple as a technological leader after many years in the wilderness. Jobs, a college dropout, gets his friend Woz, a veritable tech nerd, to do some of his work for him, and together they eventually produce a home computer. This innovation leads to them founding Apple Computers, a company that quickly surpasses IBM in creativity but slowly gets weighed down by Jobs' obsession with style and devices that function as an extension of the human body rather than merely as an appliance.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
With Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney
Bearing the burden of portraying the man is Ashton Kutcher, an actor who has evidently immersed himself in the role and undergone a terrific transformation that, in that opening scene, is truly stunning to behold.
But whereas Kutcher's performance is more than merely competent, the screenplay and cinematography fail to reach the same level of awe and clearly do not have the attention to detail for which Jobs was so notorious. Major problems along the way include the lack of focus on Jobs' personal life, and a multitude of unnecessary crane shots, often intercut with more crane shots. There is also a scene in which, I kid you not, we see Jobs at the steering wheel of his car, screaming with frustration at some predicament while speeding down the highway.
Perhaps these are the mistakes of a novice and unproven director like Stern, but had the film looked slightly different and behaved slightly differently, we could have had great insight into the enigmatic and perfectionist character of Apple's founder.
In an early scene, we learn (at least, those in the audience who didn't know it already) Steve was adopted when he, as a college dropout high on LSD, makes a tearful plea to his friends to explain to him why two parents would throw away their own baby. The theme of rejection, or more pointedly betrayal, runs through the film as one of the threads that keep the whole mess together. However, whether he is stabbed in the back, or it is he who does the stabbing (it seems karma was something he neglected to learn about on his spiritual sojourn in India in the early '70s), these incidents do not create the impression of fitting together in any way but very loosely.
This scene where Steve is on drugs degenerates quickly into a bona fide music video, as he walks sandal-clad into the tall grass, seemingly at peace with the sunny nature around him while Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 blasts out from the soundtrack, the images cut to coincide with every bow stroke on the violins.
Steve grows up and has relationships and even has a daughter. It's too bad, therefore, that we don't learn anything about this part of his life. At one point, his girlfriend is revealed only for us to comprehend what a sociopath he sometimes is: He learns of the pregnancy and then proceeds to berate the girlfriend for putting this all on him, and the scene ends with him banishing her from their home. We never see her again, but while Jobs doesn't want any contact with his daughter either, he names his pet project at Apple - Lisa - after her. Again, this could provide some texture by allowing us to understand that he see Apple's Lisa as his real daughter, while that is not the case with his flesh-and-blood offspring, or something to that effect, but the film doesn't seem interested in looking into this.
Jobs misses many opportunities to dig deeper into the character of the man. At best, we sense that he has to be incredibly lonely, not only during his years away from the company he founded, but also at the height of his startup success. Kutcher provides surprising stability to the film, but it remains obvious a large part of the crew just wasn't up to the task of bringing the story to the big screen.
André Crous can be reached at