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An utterly perfunctory retelling of the Apple founder's ups and downs in his early professional years that is good only for the completely ignorant
The first of what will surely be many biopics to come of one of the 20th century's greatest innovators, 'Jobs' only draw is being first out of the gate. Yes, if you haven't yet been acquainted with the tumultuous early years of the Apple founder, then this perfunctory retelling will probably be as good an introduction as any; but everyone else who is familiar with the story will be disappointed with this overly simplistic portrayal of a complex man whose ambition was both his greatest gift as well as his most significant stumbling block.
Beginning in 2001 when he unveiled his masterpiece, the iPod, to rapturous applause, Stern and his first-time feature screenwriter Matt Whiteley rewind the clock thirty years ago to 1971 when Jobs was a student at Reed College, Portland. An LSD trip, a journey to India and a brief stint at Atari later, Jobs teams up with his buddy, self-taught engineering wiz Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), to build Apple computers in the former's parents' Los Altos garage. Jobs had the inspired idea to combine a typewriter with a TV, and the Apple II was born - but not without the funding from entrepreneur and former Intel engineer Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney).
To find a dramatic hook, Whiteley predictably focuses on the most pivotal turning point in Jobs' life, as Jobs' launch of the Macintosh computer in 1984 sparks off an internal feud with his CEO John Scully (Matthew Modine) and the rest of the Board (including J.K. Simmons' Arthur Rock) that leads to his ouster and the company's subsequent decline. Of course, Jobs makes a return to the flailing company in 1996 upon then-CEO Gil Amelio's (Kevin Dunn) request, returning Apple to its roots in the personal computer market and paving the way for its success today.
Is there anything this dramatization adds to that true story which you cannot glean from any text-based account? Hardly; if anything, it merely puts a face to the disbelief, disappointment, indignation and gratification Jobs must have felt when he was kicked out of Apple and then presented with the golden opportunity to rebuild the company into the vision he had for it at the onset. The storytelling is pretty straightforward, covering the important events of his professional ups and downs but providing little details beyond what is already public knowledge.
Admittedly, to expect more would probably be a tall order, since the man has passed away and the others who would be familiar with these past events did not participate in the making of this film - including the real-life Woz, who in fact has been a vocal critic of the movie. But more disappointingly, Stern completely glosses over Jobs' personal life and personality, both of which are essential to any self-respecting biopic - after all, how can any biography be complete without an insight into the person whose life story is being told?
Whiteley's episodic script is utterly superficial in this regard - and we're not talking about Jobs' drive, determination or innovation. Instead, Jobs' crucial relationship with Wozniak is thinly sketched, not only because it omits how they met and their chemistry, but also because it barely explains why Woz quit Apple dissatisfied with the direction the company was heading and the person that Jobs had become. Other aspects of Jobs' character are given short shrift - for instance, we see Jobs dumping his pregnant girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan (Ahna O'Reilly) and refusing to recognise his newly born daughter as his own early on, but are given little explanation how and why he settles down and turns into a family man later.
If the scripting is a part of the problem, then the acting is yet another. Chiefly, while bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jobs, Ashton Kutcher is not up to the part. To his credit, one can tell Kutcher has put in a lot of effort into the role, emulating his character's awkwardly hunched posture as well as to some degree his voice and gestures; unfortunately Kutcher always looks like he is playing the part, and never quite becoming the character he is supposed to portray. It is an affected performance, and Kutcher's limitations as a dramatic actor are all too apparent here. In fact, the supporting acts steal the show, especially Mulroney's solid turn as Jobs' ally turned adversary.
Most of all, Stern's film rarely possesses the qualities that characterised Jobs - it isn't bold enough to offer a balanced, or critical even, perspective of the man (including his more unsavoury personal aspects), nor unique enough to provide a distinctive look at the early years of his storied career. What emerges is simply bland and uninspired filmmaking, which in the context of Jobs' illustrious and intricate life, is an unsatisfying tribute to a man who spent his time being exactly the opposite.
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