Review: “Jobs”

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The images remain clear in memory of the people who publicly mourned the death of technological innovator (to describe him lightly) Steve Jobs when he died, really, not too long ago. The reaction seemed reasonable at the time, given the impact the man had on everyone’s lives — I’m typing this on a MacBook, listened to my iPod on the way home today, and downloaded the new iOS 7 earlier — however, the biopic, Jobs, leaves much to be desired.

Ashton Kutcher, who was reportedly on the edge of being dropped from the movie because of poor performance, didn’t grab our attention more than, maybe, two or three times — a) when he breaks down in front of his father after being kicked out of Apple, b) when he dials Bill Gates and threatens to sue him, and c) when he’s “recruiting” for the Macintosh division.

How can the main character of a biopic not be the central point of interest, you ask? Great question. I’m still trying to figure it out, but frankly the movies wasn’t all I imagined it would be. Yes, we nerd out for the technology in it, fascinated by the reveal of the Apple 2 and the first Macintosh — and opening it with the historic speech that leads to Jobs pulling the iPod out of his pocket to show the world is stellar. Also, a tip of the hat goes to Josh Gad for an excellent performance as Steve Wozniak, who is the most interesting character.

Unlike Gad, Kutcher doesn’t tap into all that we know, or think we know, of his character (Jobs). Gad’s voice and mannerisms appear to mirror Wozniak’s perfectly. Kutcher also suffers to develop in the way the script is written — a less intimate or focused version of the much-better The Social Network. The story flies by so quickly, trying to cover too much ground, that you’re worn out by the end. More than we get to see all of the innovation and the process, the process, the process, we just see Jobs get forced off of projects and thrown out of companies, only to get back in later.

The Social Network has an advantage in the first place: the infancy of the company. Apple has been through so much that the film doesn’t have time to reach into Jobs’ final bag of tricks in two hours, bringing the company from verge-of-death to the most valuable company in the world by 2012. However, the aforementioned public mourners, who are maybe the film’s most reachable audience, are probably more interested in what happens after the iPod (where the movie starts) than before it. Jobs doesn’t take this approach.

There are great moments. I especially enjoyed the sequence during which Jobs is pushed toward the lowly Macintosh division, takes it over, and develops it into something special. But for the most part the film misses because it’s trying to do too much — at one point, the story line jumps a decade between Jobs’ removal and reincorporation from and into Apple.

One thing The Social Network did right, as it seems to be the appropriate comparison here, is that it didn’t try to go too fast; as a matter of fact, in some spots (few and far between, I grant you) you really had to want to stick with the movie. If you did, it paid off.

There’s a lot going on in Jobs and if you read the book by Walter Isaacson you may have been able to connect the dots better than the average viewer. The film’s vagueness hurts it, especially during board member deliberations.

I’ll give it one thing: it’s definitely a good, flash in the pan example of how much Steve Jobs did in his lifetime, but sometimes those things — those fascinating stories — are better left in book form. This is probably one of those times.

“Jobs”: ★★

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