Talk about doomed before you begin. When you’re making a film about a character as divisive as Steve Jobs and a company that inspires such devotion and disapprobation in almost equal measure as Apple, whatever you come up with will be contentious.
Entrusting the screenplay to a first- timer and the direction to a man with only a couple of middling credits on his resumé and you’re only compounding the risk. And if you then cast Ashton Kutcher in the lead role – an actor best known for appearing in That 70s Show and Dude, Where’s My Car?, hosting the TV show Punk’d and spending several years as Demi Moore’s young husband, well, you’re clearly just asking for trouble.
Considering all of this, the one impressive thing about Jobs is that it’s not actually a trainwreck, and writer Matt Whiteley and director Joshua Michael Stern have come up with a passable biopic that neatly covers the early years of Steve Jobs’ life, hitting the main highlights and lowlights and sketching his personality with, it would seem, reasonable accuracy. Certainly for those of us who never actually encountered Jobs, but have gleaned most of our information about him from such sources as Walter Isaacson’s admirably candid biography.
The film begins in portentous style. We follow a grey-haired Jobs down a corridor adorned with three pictures – the first we see is Einstein. Then there’s Gandhi and one other that I suspect could be Maharaj-ji, Jobs’ guru, but I may be wrong.
The music is stirring; we could be watching the trailer for The Right Stuff or some presidential/messianic address. The caption informs us we are at a 2001 sales meeting in Apple Town Hall. It’s the moment when Jobs is revealing the iPod to the faithful.
Cue wild applause and unmitigated delight. This is, of course, a conventional flashback beginning and we swiftly fade back in time to Jobs in his college dropout days and then follow the story through his early experience with computers, teaming up with Steve Wozniack (played by Josh Gad), founding Apple and so on until we get back to that triumphant launch we came in on.
After that weighty prelude, the style is pretty much TV movie of the week. Keen to include as much detail as it can in the 122-minute run time, the film includes fleeting references to Jobs’ personal hygiene issues and his personal relationships outside of work, but focuses on his bullying ways, lack of empathy and sometimes genius decision-making.
Like Isaacson’s book, the film is certainly no hagiography, but it does eventually seem to endorse the view that the end justifies the means. Jobs may have treated people appallingly – specifically his supposedly closest friends like Wozniack and Daniel Kottke (Lukas Haas) – but his return to Apple in the latter stages of the film is treated as a feat akin to Hannibal crossing the Pyrenees with his elephants.
Notable exclusions are gender- based. According to the film, Jobs’ professional world and even the garage where Apple began, were strictly men-only affairs, but the scantiest research reveals this is merely the Hollywood boys’ club indulging in its customary blinkered approach.
And Kutcher? Prophetically, the actor once said, “I’ll probably never be the best actor in Hollywood, but I hope to be the hardest working.” And credit where it’s due, you can see him really working here. He has clearly studied Jobs long and hard to get his walk, his mannerisms and vocal inflections. But you can also see the cogs at work. He’s not unwatchable, but he never inhabits the role and flies with it as a more gifted actor might.
To sum up? Jobs is very much like The Social Network. Without David Fincher… or Aaron Sorkin… or Jesse Eisenberg.
PRODUCTION: Five Star Feature Films
DIRECTOR: Joshua Michael Stern
WRITER: Matt Whiteley
STARS: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney