PLOT: The story of Steve Jobs, the difficult genius who founded Apple, had it taken away from him, then won it back.
REVIEW: JOBS is a moderately engaging but unenlightening biopic done in broad strokes; a by-the-numbers look at a man who was anything but. Sometimes it feels as if the film is reaching for THE SOCIAL NETWORKís heights of stylishly dramatizing a technological revolution while examining the complex, frustrating figure behind it, but both the filmís director and star arenít quite up to the task.
Ashton Kutcher, you probably know, plays Steve Jobs. Itís an acceptable performance of little range; neither a home run nor an embarrassment. Based on his portrayal, weíre led to believe that Jobs - at the height of his innovation - only had two modes: calm determination and irrational anger. I have to believe that was not the case with the actual man, but director Joshua Michael Stern and Kutcher donít necessarily plumb the depths of the manís psyche to our satisfaction; we never really understand what makes him tick, we just know that he ticks loudly.
Intriguingly enough, Kutcher isnít really miscast, at least not in the filmís early passages, where Jobs, recently dropped out of college, is depicted as an arrogant cad who cheats on his girlfriend, takes drugs and doesnít play well with others. As a technician at Atari, Jobs feels well above the rest of his colleagues, intent on starting his own business and being his own boss. He ultimately enlists friend and fellow genius Steve Wozniak (a very good Josh Gad) to help him design a personal computer, perfunctorily calling it the Apple and embarking on a mission to put one of these things in every home in the world.
Jobs and Wozniak work out of their garage with a ragtag bunch, building motherboards and seeking money to found a corporation. Theyíre eventually found by Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), an investor who used to work at Intel. Markkula is able to get the guys started with a sizable amount of money, which leads to the creation of the Apple II.
JOBS then skips forward quite a bit to where Apple is already the second biggest computer company in the world. (It actually might have been interesting to see how exactly it reached that height, but the movie impatiently wants to get to the SOCIAL NETWORK-esque backstabbing stuff.) We see Jobs toils over risky failures (the ďApple LisaĒ of the mid-80s, Appleís biggest disaster) and confront the authority he so disdains. He now has a board of investors to deal with (led by the always reliable J.K. Simmons) and a CEO who gets too big for his britches (Matthew Modine). Heís eventually pushed out of his company by these entities, but the impact of that isnít felt very strongly because we first watch as Jobs rather dismissively denies a piece of the company to the very friends who helped him found it. (Wozniak remains by his side, but we can tell from his mournful glances at Steve that heís disappointed in the manís actions.)
JOBS deserves credit for refusing to sugarcoat its subjectís temperamental nature: the Steve Jobs we see here is not a very nice person; he dresses down employees in public, he throws his former best friend (Lukas Haas) by the wayside, and at one point he refuses to acknowledge the existence of his own daughter. Kutcher is able to make the manís rather surprising ugliness come to life in the most intense scenes, where he very deliberately and sternly makes someone feel like crap, and the actor has also obviously worked very hard to mimic some of Jobsí physical traits, like his lurching walk or the way he folds his hands.
That said, he doesnít disappear into the character. This is especially true during the third act, when Jobsí has several moments of tearful resignation, and they're simply unconvincing. Kutcher, try as he might, just canít rise to the occasion of making us believe heís crying or having an epiphany.
But Kutcherís performance aside, JOBS still canít make the man any clearer to us at the end of the day; it certainly doesn't make him a sympathetic figure. The movieís Rise and Fall and Rise Again structure is to be expected, but exactly who was Jobs and why did he act this way? Thereís a brief mention of the fact that he was adopted, but thatís not sufficient. THE SOCIAL NETWORK made a case for Mark Zuckerbergís severe inferiority complex and petty jealousy, but JOBS never cracks the mystery of the Macís creator. That holds the film back more than Kutcherís limited performance.
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