Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Jobs" Review: The Apple Visionary Is Given The Cliff Notes Treatment With This Otherwise Enjoyable Biopic

Steve Jobs was a man with not just one vision, but many. Like most visionaries though, his persistent need to push the boundaries was often met with numerous obstacles and insurmountable odds stacked so far against him that if not for his determination to see his vision become a reality, those visions would likely have never come to fruition.

Making a film that documents the many accomplishments and technological breakthroughs of Steve Jobs was a no-brainer. His life is endlessly fascinating and has impacted our culture to a degree that is unfathomable. But with so much to cover in the span of two hours, does this biopic on Jobs' life and career satisfy or leave you wanting more? Read the full review after the break.

Steve Jobs' life and career are the epitome of the American dream. A self-made man who started out working from his parent's garage with some friends who had a simple idea (that wasn't so simple to create) of making what would later be known as a home personal computer and turning his vision into an empire. Things we take for granted now, such as monitors, keyboards, the mouse and even how we listen to our music was in some shape or form brought to the market because of Steve Jobs.

It's not because he was a genius (which he was, just not in the traditional way). It's not because he knew the right people (which he did). It's because he had an uncanny ability to see into the future and know exactly what the modern consumer wanted needed. Then you match that with his ability to actually find the right people to create these modern technological marvels and his knack for selling people on something they can't even imagine, and what you have is a man who could only be stopped by his own ambitions, which sadly was the case more often than not.

Most people think of Steve Jobs as that guy who founded Apple Computers or as that guy who made the iPhone. Those achievements, while certainly significant, were just a drop in the bucket compared to the everlasting impact he has had on the computer industry or technology in general. That is what this new biopic based on Jobs' life tries to do, show those of us who have had their lives forever altered by him that there was much more to him than either of those landmark accomplishments.

Condensing the life of Steve Jobs into a two hour movie seems like an impossible task, and unfortunately it is. Acting almost more like a Cliff Notes version or greatest hits, the film cherry picks moments from his life that were essentially the building blocks for where he eventually ended up at the tail end of his life. While that isn't necessarily a horrible decision, the fact of the matter is that the film actually feels like it is leaving out pertinent information, which is a problem when you are telling the story of a person's life.

The more important parts of his life are covered; his friendship with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), his relationship with Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) and the components that came together to create Apple through their partnership, his eventual downfall at the hands of those with limited vision that were in control of his funding and his ultimate comeback years later. The problem is that we never really get under the hood on any one of those parts.

The most fleshed out relationship in the film is between Jobs and Wozniak. Fitting together perfectly as the designer and the builder, their many interactions are without a doubt the most interesting parts of the film. Not only do we get a much needed glimpse at how lost Jobs eventually becomes while reaching for the stars, it also helps illustrate what Jobs was best at, selling people on an idea that only he could envision and a lousy penchant for using his friends and kicking them to the curb once they ceased being useful. 

But whenever the film starts to delve into his personal life, such as his girlfriend and the complications that arise when she becomes pregnant, they seem almost glossed over in comparison. After he kicks his pregnant girlfriend out and emphatically denies that the child is his for years, suddenly at the end of the film he is with his girlfriend (who is now his wife) along with the daughter he had denied was his all those years. Did he finally reconcile with them? What made him accept his daughter finally? None of that is gone into nearly as much detail as his relationship with Wozniak.

His time spent at Apple during the 80's also felt very brief. Once again we get the highlights; him bringing in the head of marketing for Pepsi, John Sculley (Matthew Modine), to help sell his products; the trials and tribulations of creating the very first Macintosh computer and his many clashes with the board of directors. But as soon as these elements are introduced, they are quickly slid to the side in favor of the next highlight.

What helps overcome this problematic structure though is how endlessly interesting Steve Jobs' life actually was. Presented as a highlight reel or not, seeing the building blocks for his amazing career is enough material to keep even the most jaded audience engaged throughout. The only real question mark of the film then becomes who they got to portray Mr. Jobs, which thus far has been the number one concern for most viewers and considering who they cast, there are right to be cautious.

Ashton Kutcher is not somebody you would normally entrust with such a serious (and important) role in any film, let alone as the lead actor in a biopic about one of the world's greatest visionaries. His few attempts at being serious (The Butterfly Effect & The Guardian) didn't really instill much confidence in any of his skeptics, so it was a curious choice for sure.

But you would be wise to hold off on final judgement until you see the film for yourself because you may be surprised. Kutcher turns in his most consistent and surprisingly earnest performance to date as the deceased billionaire Apple mogul. That's not to mention his more than passing resemblance to the man along with his convincing impersonation of Jobs' mannerisms and signature walk. Suffice to say, any problems with the film do not stem from Kutcher's portrayal of Steve Jobs and instead becomes one of the films few strengths.

Once again, the film's biggest failing is that it just isn't able to incorporate everything about Jobs' life into such a short time span. Perhaps a mini-series or short run cable series would have done more justice to the man's many accomplishments and legacy. But that being said, the film itself is a more than passable account of the life and times of Steve Jobs even if it glances over glaring omissions (Apple was responsible for the creation of Pixar, the company that saved Disney's film division, and that is never mentioned once).

If you are at all interested or even just a little curious about Steve Jobs and don't have the time to read the far superior book or just don't want to wait until a more robust biopic about his life is made, then Jobs is the perfect solution. It is well made and well acted, but most of all it does leave you with the impression that Steve Jobs was an important individual, flaws and all. After watching Jobs, it is easy to understand how and why he was so integral to the Apple company, and on that point, the film is a success.

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