Steve Jobs was an inventor, innovator and artist, but he was a businessman, and he sold and marketed computers for a living. He was not a filmmaker, painter, sculptor, musician or anything of the sort, and yet people would not bat an eye at calling him the Michelangelo or the Picasso of our day. The biopic “Jobs” is set only on portraying him as that mad genius. It replaces what he stood for with glossy eyed monologues and his backstory with Apple’s greatest hits.
Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) as seen here was a tyrant, a brilliant tyrant who demanded perfection and dreamed up the non-existent but was held back by the investors who didn’t applaud him, the shareholders and board members who ousted him and the team members who didn’t share his lofty ambitions. He hastily fired those who disagreed with him, neglected his friends like Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) who helped him build Apple in his parents’ basement and infuriated the people like Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) who showed up on his doorstep one day and bankrolled his visionary ideas.
Joshua Michael Stern’s film acknowledges that Jobs was a controversial figure, even an asshole when it came to management, but it never doubts that he was a mastermind. It begins with Jobs introducing the iPod to his staff. Lens flares abound, an orchestra swells, and at the mention of having created a music player, the room bursts into applause.
Flash back to the ‘70s, and Jobs has just dropped out of school, about to embark on a trip to India. A scene of him running through a prairie depicts Jobs as a maestro willing the world into his mind. It’s only a matter of time before he lands on the name Apple Computers and is presenting the Apple 2 to the world.
Jobs and Wozniak’s trials and failures throughout this process are not common knowledge and will be welcome to any person currently reading this review on their Macbook or iPhone. And yet every line along the way seems to anticipate the man he will become.
It’s as though Matt Whiteley’s debut script were ghost written by an Apple PR person. One late scene shows famed Apple designer Jonathan Ive (with whom Jobs famously clashed over the design of the iPhone’s iOS), speechifying and reciting from Jobs’s Bible. Technology should have art and color, he says; they should mean something to people and touch their hearts.
That’s a beautiful idea, but it’s not a new idea; it’s Jobs’s idea, and it’s all meant to build up to Jobs recording one of his famous commercials. Stern’s film lacks a compelling narrative beyond the adoration it heaps upon Jobs, and it further lacks the style of even Apple’s iconic ads, content only to perch Kutcher on desks and chairs as though posing for a magazine cover.
Compare “Jobs” to “The Social Network.” That film also told the story of a tech genius who alienated friends in pursuit of changing the world. David Fincher’s chillingly cold digital aesthetic mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue told a tale about how we communicate in the digital age. What does “Jobs” say about the world that Steve supposedly changed?
“Jobs” feels closer to another biopic from this year, the Jackie Robinson film “42.” That film took its legendary protagonist and whitewashed him, failing to delve into Robinson’s ideas and turning his greatest moments into tearjerker set pieces.
“Jobs” is shot almost entirely in boardrooms and offices, so it too does not exist outside the mythos of Apple’s brand. Jobs’s ideas are limited to those that define his work, and his greatest moments are those that defined the brand, such as showing Apple’s “1984” ad in full so that a room full of people could applaud it.
Kutcher also severely limits Jobs’s range. His performance is boiled down to a series of all-knowing glares and smirks, he demonstrates intensity by speaking in stuttered whispers and more than once he shows petulant rage by screaming at the top of his lungs in his car.
Some may doubt the accuracy of “Jobs” and its protagonist’s depiction. Steve Wozniak himself voiced his disapproval. But “Jobs”’s real problem is that it misses the man behind the legend. Technology, style and ideas changed the world, and this film has none of them.