Written by Bryan M Zarpentine
The man, the myth, and the legend that was Steve Jobs comes alive in the new biopic Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as the titular character who passed away far before his time. Kutcher takes on a challenging role and handles it admirably, at times doing a phenomenal job or portraying one of the brightest minds of a generation, while at other times appearing in over his head in such a difficult role. Although Kutcher’s performance is worth watching, the movie has far too many peaks and valleys, and ultimately the fact that the movie is about the life of Steve Jobs is more interesting than the movie itself.
The first scene of the movie is pure brilliance, portraying Jobs at an Apple staff meeting in 2001, as he unveils the iPod for the first time to tremendous applause and praise. Kutcher absolutely nails the demeanor of Jobs: the way he looks, the way he dresses, and the way he talks. For this first scene especially, Kutcher’s voice is remarkably and eerily similar to Jobs’ voice, and for just a second or two, you wonder if it’s actually archival footage of Jobs himself. The scene does well to set the tone for the rest of the movie, reminding the audience of Jobs’ creative genius. However, this first scene also raises expectations for the rest of the movie, and unfortunately, the rest of the movie is unable to match those expectations, as only a few scenes in the film compare favorably to the opening scene.
After the first scene, the film goes back to Jobs’ life in the early 1970’s and moves forward from there. Jobs’ character is quickly established as a dreamer, a lackey, and a misfit, among other things, as he’s shown hanging around a college campus despite dropping out of school, followed by an existential montage of his drug use, education, and travel. The film offers a deep and detailed characterization of Jobs, which dominates the first part of the movie and continues throughout. While this is well done and essential for the movie, it also takes a while and makes the first part of the movie move slowly, although there is great insight into what a passionate and dedicated worker was, as well as how much of a control freak he was when he was just starting out.
It isn’t until the movie gets to the part of Jobs’ life when he founds Apple Computers, which happened famously in his parent’s garage, that the film begins to pick up steam and become more interesting, but that happens more than a half hour into the film. It’s here that the movie not only shows how callous and in control Jobs was when he was trying to get Apple off the ground, but it also begins to delve into his personal life, showing the audience how little regard he had for the people in his life, both his friends and the people that helped him launch Apple. It’s when the story combines aspects of his personal and professional life that the movie is at its best, but there just isn’t enough of that throughout the film. For the rest of the time, the movie goes through too many peaks and valleys with regard to maintaining the attention and interest of the audience. Parts of the movie can be incredibly captivating, while others almost boring to sit through.
Partially at fault is director Joshua Michael Stern, who isn’t all that accomplished as a film director, and may have been in over his head, taking on a film that was obviously going to be highly-anticipated and held to a high standard. There are simply far too many important events in Jobs’ life that it’s difficult to determine which ones should be covered, which ones shouldn’t be covered, and how much screen time should be dedicated to each event. It’s tough to blame Stern too much, knowing that large chunks of time and noteworthy events would have to be passed over, but he fails to develop any flow to the movie, and this lack of continuity and crispness slows down the movie far too many times, and leads to the peaks and valleys that make the movie difficult for the audience to retain interest in the story.
For good or bad, Kutcher’s performance and his portrayal of such a famous and well-regarded man were always going to be the primary focus of this film. Kutcher was undoubtedly an interesting choice for the role, as he’s rarely done serious roles, and he’s certainly never taken on a role this challenging before. But while he’s far from perfect, Kutcher’s performance is strong nonetheless, and one of the highlights of the film. For a role like this, the devil is in the details, and it’s apparent throughout the film that Kutcher did his homework in order to master the subtleties of portraying Jobs. The way he smiles, the way he moves his hands when he speaks, and the tone of his voice were all great imitations of Jobs on the part of Kutcher, who captured his demeanor with considerable accuracy.
At times, Kutcher shows incredible focus, and just judging by the look in his eyes, it becomes evident that Kutcher has entrenched himself in his character, and that helps bring Jobs to life. He nails the controlling demeanor that Jobs had; he nails Jobs’ patented look of always being focused and never being content; and he nails Jobs’ smug and accomplished smile. Jobs was a complicated person and a challenging person to imitate, and Kutcher performed admirably in trying to portray someone who is inherently different from most people, and difficult for the average person to identify with and feel sympathy towards. However, there are times when it looks as though Kutcher is fighting to find himself in scenes, although he ultimately prevails in such a challenging role because much like Jobs himself was the center of attention and owned almost every room he walked into, Kutcher was constantly the center of attention, and owned nearly every scene of the movie.
If there is an actor that takes the spotlight away from Kutcher in this movie, even briefly, it’s Josh Gad, who played Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Gad gives what is surely the most impressive performance of his career. The little humor in the movie all comes from Gad, who displays the great comedic timing that audiences are accustomed to seeing from him. However, as the movie evolves, so does Gad, who takes on a serious role for one of the first times in his career, making a seamless transition from comedic man-boy to legitimate adult actor. Gad leaves his mark on the film in a scene towards the end of the movie when he outshines Kutcher in a powerful scene when Wozniak tells Jobs that he’s leaving Apple. Kutcher is no doubt the star of the film, but Gad is prevalent throughout, and he makes a lot of positive contributions to the movie.
In addition to Gad, Jobs features an extensive supporting cast made up mostly of established veteran actors, including Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, Ron Eldard, and Matthew Modine. Outside of Gad, as well as Mulroney, who did a fine job and made his presence known, none of the supporting actors really stand out, which actually works out for the best. The performances of the supporting actors allow Kutcher to take center stage in the film, and with so many moving parts throughout the film, Kutcher is the one constant, which is the way it should be. Although, on the other hand, more performances like the one Gad provided could have made the film better.
In the end, the acting is not where the downfall of this film is, rather it’s the story telling. While the film has good intentions in wanting to tell the story of Jobs’ life, the movie only shows bits and pieces of his personal life, and it turns into more a story about the history of Apple than it is the story of Jobs. It’s true that Jobs’ life is defined mostly by his work at Apple, but there are so many more aspects of his life and eventual death that are either ignored completely or only touched on briefly, getting bogged down by the logistics of Apple’s rise and fall.
Furthermore, while the characterization of Jobs throughout the film is deep and intriguing, the movie is more informative than it is entertaining. For significant periods of time, it plays more like a documentary telling the biography of one man’s life than a drama based on that man’s life. Although Jobs is a fascinating person to learn about, the movie about him needs to be equally entertaining, which it wasn’t. The movie doesn’t do a justice to what a compelling person he was. The story that the film tells is not interesting enough to keep the audience engaged from beginning to end, which it should have been able to do judging by Jobs’ life. The fact that the audience knows that the movie is about Steve Jobs is the most appealing part of the movie, which shouldn’t be the case. Despite an impressive performance from Kutcher and a plethora of solid performances by the supporting cast, if this same movie were made without it being known that the main character was based on Jobs, there would be little reason to watch it.
Ultimately, Jobs earns three out of five stars. Despite obvious shortcomings by the director in the way the story is told, there’s plenty that audiences can take away from seeing it, as there are enough captivating moments to walk away feeling somewhat satisfied. Kutcher’s performance is worthwhile, as he proves that he’s capable of taking on serious and challenging roles. In part, the film is crushed by weight and expectations that come with portraying such a brilliant person who made such extraordinary accomplishments. But the idea of the movie is better than the movie itself, which leaves the audience underwhelmed, and makes Jobs nothing more than average.
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matt Modine
Writers: Matt Whiteley
Run Time: 122 minutes
Pros: Great characterization of Steve Jobs and deep insight into the kind of person he was; impressive performance by Ashton Kutcher in what was a difficult and challenging role; Josh Gad’s performance in a supporting role.
Cons: Poor story telling; a director that’s unqualified for such a big project and such an important movie; fails to live up to hype and expectations; has little appeal outside of knowing it’s about Steve Jobs.