This is not a full-fledged biography of the brilliant inventor-entrepreneur Steve Jobs. Any movie tackling that kind of project would take a week to watch. Instead, in a series of snapshots that focus in on Jobs at different points in his career, and that stick mostly to the two-decade period between the early-’70s and the early-’90s, we get an idea of what he was all about, what made him tick, rather than a detailed life story.
The film’s brief opening scene is actually set later, in 2001, when Jobs steps up in front of a small gathering of his employees, proudly reaches into his jeans pocket, and introduces his then-newest cool gadget, the iPod ... to rousing applause.
But it’s the film’s sudden switch to a series of flashbacks, to just after he had dropped out of college but still hung around on the campus, to when he dropped acid with friends and had a positive, eye-opening trip, to when he was working as a game designer at Atari, that the snapshots start to form into a picture of Jobs.
In an excellent performance by Ashton Kutcher, who kind of looks like the younger Jobs, and with makeup to help in his later years is his spitting image, it’s revealed that Jobs was an idea man, whose brain was always working overtime, but who needed and appreciated the help of his techno wiz pal Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), who is only referred to as Woz throughout the film, to bring the ideas to physical fruition and to create the groundbreaking company called Apple.
Jobs, who died in 2011, was a well-documented man. His (and his team’s) inventions helped change the way we work and play. He is regarded in many circles as a saintly man who only did good things.
But screenwriter Matt Whitely had no qualms about presenting Jobs with warts galore. So along with all of the positive things he did, we also get his dark side, the moments where, in the name of doing what he wholeheartedly believed was right for Apple, he stepped on anyone – including close friends and longtime associates – who he didn’t believe was operating at his or her full potential.
The film traces, perhaps a little too quickly, his meteoric rise, his out-of-left-field fall, and his Phoenix-like second rise. It’s really more of a business story, setting up the relationships Jobs had with the folks he worked with to create Apple – in his stepdad’s garage – and later getting into how he got along and-or fought with the people who formed the board of Apple and who didn’t like the way Jobs was managing things.
There are likely going to be disagreements about which half of the film is more interesting or entertaining. The first half sticks with introducing person after person, each one a piece of the machine that would eventually become Apple, with Jobs at the center of all of the activity. The second half concentrates on the troubles brought on by success, and Jobs’ endless battles with board members who thought only of bottom lines, while Jobs’ was far more concerned with how his products would help the public.
Page 2 of 2 - It’s Kutcher’s remarkable acting range (who knew?) that keeps things fascinating, even though that second half finally does start to slow down the film’s momentum. Josh Gad, as Woz, is mostly more fun to watch, and Dermot Mulroney, as investor-turned-board member Mike Markkula gives the film’s most balanced performance.
There’s a great story to be told about Steve Jobs. The film does quite well at getting out a good chunk of it. Who knows, maybe it’ll take a sequel to complete the picture.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Matt Whitely; directed by Joshua Michael Stern
With Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Dermot Mulroney