If you don’t know anything about Steve Jobs’ career, Jobs will give you the CliffsNotes version. Younger Mac fans who were not aware that the visionary had an awful temper and experienced several professional setbacks might be fascinated by the tale, but it’s likely to leave everyone else craving Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming version of the same events.
Who’s in it? Ashton Kutcher (Steve Jobs), Josh Gad (Steve Wozniak), Dermot Mulroney (Mike Markkula), Matthew Modine (John Sculley), J.K. Simmons (Arthur Rock), Lukas Haas (Daniel Kottke)
What’s it about? The life and career (but mostly career) of Steve Jobs from his college days in 1974 to the inception of the iMac and launch of the Think Different campaign more than twenty years later . . . plus an opening sequence that takes place during the first iPod announcement in 2001.
What’s good? Steve Jobs was a genius. That much everyone agrees on. So it’s no surprise that screenwriter Matt Whiteley puts his subject on quite the pedestal throughout the film. However, it was also refreshing to see that neither Whiteley nor director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) were afraid to portray Jobs as the straight-up asshole that he was. This is a man who changed the world and was certainly one of the best salesmen of all time, but for decades, he treated those closest to him like crap and was much too impressed by his own cleverness. And, if you’re to believe this movie, while he may have been extremely creative and ultimately prophetic about what technology consumers wanted, he didn’t always exude financial business sense (when it wasn’t his own money on the line) or boardroom savvy. So on the whole, Jobs gives a fair—if not exactly insightful—portrayal of a complex man.
Kutcher had his work cut out for him, didn’t he? Even though the biggest Mac fans knew all about Jobs’ many quirks and personal shortcomings, they still loved him. Jobs was revered around the globe, despite his faults. And now the goofy dude from That ’70s Show and Two and a Half Men dares to play him on the big screen? That takes guts. From the opening scene, however, it’s clear that Kutcher can pull it off. In fact, that sequence is downright eerie. At other points, however, it seems like Steve Jobs is nothing more than intimidating glares and repetitive tantrums and philosophical spewing, but that’s more an issue with the writing and direction than Kutcher’s performance.
Gad didn’t get enough screen-time as Wozniak, but did a good job of representing the Apple co-founder’s yin to Jobs’ yang in the few scenes he was in. The rest of the cast—when working with decent dialogue—gave viewers a believable take on some of the most important moments of Jobs’ career.
What could’ve been better? Shortly after the stirring opening scene comes one of the worst parts of the film, where Jobs, his girlfriend and his best friend are tripping out on god-knows-what in a meadow and saying all sorts of ridiculous things. That’s when it’s apparent that the promise shown in the first few minutes of the movie is not going to be continued throughout the remaining two hours.
But it is a jam-packed two hours, racing from Pivotal Conversation to Momentous Meeting to Fateful Decision to Triumphant Milestone. Curiously, however, there’s no mention of Jobs’ involvement with Pixar, and the founding of NeXT is quickly glossed over. Granted, the backstories of Pixar and NeXT could be movies in their own right, but if you’re going to give five minutes to almost everything else Jobs did, why leave out those? There are egregious gaps involving Jobs’ personal life, too. We see him tell his pregnant girlfriend she’s on her own back in the ’70s, then watch his attorney beg him not to give up all paternal rights a few years later . . . and then near the end of the film Jobs’ now-teenage daughter is at his home, he’s married to someone we’ve never seen before and also has a young son, and we have no idea what in the heck is going on. This is an example of trying to cover too much. Jobs would’ve benefited from a more focused script, to say the least.
The bottom line: If you have minimal knowledge of Steve Jobs’ life and career, Jobs will give you a satisfactory two-hour overview. But there’s no insight about what made him tick, why he cared so much about certain things, or why he did such an about-face with his family later in life. It’s a surface-skimming look at an industry icon that will leave you with more questions than answers.