While "Jobs" -- the new biopic about late Apple founder Steve Jobs -- is far inferior to the tale of the legal travails of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," it's still a fascinating film and big step forward for its star Ashton Kutcher.
Even though the film kicks off in 2001 with Jobs' introduction of the iPod, the film mostly tracks Jobs from the forming of Apple, and takes him through his rise (the Apple II), fall (the Apple Lisa and removal from Apple) and rise again (his return to Apple in 1996) when the company that spurned him asked him back to take over as CEO.
After a couple scenes in his college years in 1974 (and an almost laughable scene where Jobs trips on hallucinogens), the film picks up with Jobs at work at computer game maker Atari in 1976, where his boss isn't afraid to tell him that he's an A-hole to his face despite his obvious brilliance.
A take-charge kind of guy who admittedly works best on his own, Jobs is given an opportunity by his boss to work on a difficult project -- by himself at night. Stuck on its technical execution, Jobs brings in his buddy Steve Wozniak (a brilliant Josh Gad), a tech-head who completes the complicated task with ease (even though his naiveté allows him to be swindled by Jobs for the credit and most of the money for the gig).
Celebrating the success of the job at Wozniak's home, Jobs notices sitting on a coffee table a crude version of the personal computer. The possibilities immediately get the wheels turning in Jobs' head, and while the technical side is clearly Wozniak's suit, Jobs will clearly be the one who sells the ideas. After hiring a small crew to help them complete their first order, the shrewd businessman quickly puts the company on its tumultuous path to greatness.
See my review of "Jobs" on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Diana Pierce below.
Apart from the video clips that most people have seen of Jobs in his black turtleneck introducing innovative products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad in recent years, it's pretty safe to safe that most of the public at-large doesn't know about the methods behind the madness of the computer genius.
And madness "Jobs" is. Instead portraying him as creative collaborator, the film unflinching shows him as a cold, calculated megalomaniac who purportedly stepped on the necks of nearly every person he worked with on his way to, and while at the top. In fact, the only people who didn't experience the brunt of Jobs' explosive personality were his parents, who let him use their garage when Apple was a simple start-up.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern (the under-appreciated "Swing Vote") and written by Matt Whiteley in his big-screen debut, "Jobs" touches on several areas of Jobs' life. From his personal relationships (he refuses to support or be with a pregnant girlfriend) to his rocky workplace antics (where he barks orders like a tyrant and betrays longtime colleagues without giving it a second thought), Jobs mostly comes off as a raging jerk looking out for nobody but himself. The problem is, he's his own worst enemy.
While there are too many great supporting turns to mention (Lukas Hass, Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons and Matthew Modine are all terrific), it's Kutcher who will get noticed for his most commanding film performance to date.
While playing Jobs seems like just another Kutcher role at the beginning of the film, the actor soon scrubs away his clean, pretty boy image with a brutally honest take on the late Apple CEO. True, while may it not be an Oscar-caliber performance -- Kutcher has the advantage of actually resembling Jobs -- the actor is bound to score some more serious roles in the future.
While Jobs' objective in the film is to inspire creativity, creativity is probably the film's weakest suit. It feels like a TV movie at the beginning but eventually hits its stride, even if it uses conventional tactics like classic rock songs to help define the era the story is taking place in. Plus, it would have been helpful to find out what fueled Jobs' inner-turmoil. Given his expansive history, the film would have probably worked best as an HBO miniseries.
It will interesting in the coming weeks to see how people react to the film, whether it be former colleagues of Jobs, tech geeks or everyday moviegoers (it's great that the film isn't too technical and thus, very accessible). And even if there is a dispute about Jobs' fiery demeanor, the fact that Hollywood was willing to deconstruct the iGod makes the film a huge success. Even if Apple fans feel like the filmmakers did a hatchet job on the visionary -- if only half the things provide to be true -- the computer innovator still comes off as a dirt bag at best.
Few will argue though, whether he was a bad dude or not, what a brilliant businessman Jobs was, even if his people skills were in a serious need of a reboot.
"Jobs," rated PG-13, 3 stars out of 4.
See the trailer for "Jobs" below.
What other local critics are saying ...
Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press gives the film 1 star, calling it "rotten" and saying "the thing that works best is the casting of Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs."
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gives "Jobs" 2 1/2 stars, with high praise for Kutcher: "Just as skeptics underestimated Jobs at their peril, the haters who predicted that Ashton Kutcher would embarrass himself as Jobs were simply wrong."
Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.