I walked into the theater knowing full well that this was not the “real” Steve Jobs movie, the one for which Aaron Sorkin is adapting the screenplay from Walter Isaacson’s book. Nevertheless, I thought I’d enjoy “Jobs”, the Joshua Michael Stern film starring Ashton Kutcher and Dermot Mulroney. I was wrong. Far from enjoyable, the movie was difficult to watch.
The script took all sorts of liberties with the story it's based upon, but that was not the issue. Neither were the film’s vast number of minor inaccuracies. Liberties and inaccuracies abound in movies based on real events, and they do not necessarily ruin those movies. Recent case in point: “The Social Network”, where Aaron Sorkin started out with a hollow, disjointed book and crafted a coherent, wildly entertaining screenplay that widely deviated from fact yet accurately captured the essence of the characters and the story. One of Mr. Sorkin’s most important gifts is his ability to “get” things, whether they be the inner workings of the White House, the production of a weekly live TV comedy show or nightly sports show, or, really, whatever else he chooses to write about.
“Jobs” the movie simply doesn’t “get” Jobs the man, and it certainly doesn’t “get” Apple the company. Mr. Kutcher lumbers through the part, earnestly putting in his best effort, but is clearly out of his depth and comes across as a mediocre impersonator who is able to mimic a couple of Mr. Jobs’ superficial expressions but has no hope of even understanding his true personality and motivations. Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak is another misguided casting choice whose portrayal of Woz misses the mark. J.K. Simmons as Arthur Rock and Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula are solid but unable to transcend the material. Only Giles Matthey, as a young Jonathan Ive, rings true to his character and absolutely nails Mr. Ive’s voice and accent.
The story of Apple is long and complex, and distilling it into a 2-hour movie is a daunting matter. The decisions regarding which parts of the story to focus on, which to glance over and which to ignore completely are critical to capturing the essence of the story and properly developing the characters. Many of the choices made in “Jobs” were ill-conceived, for example the omission of Mr. Jobs’ involvement with Pixar, the failure to even mention Ron Wayne, the third original partner in Apple Computer, Inc., and, most glaringly, the failure to include Mr. Jobs’ visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1979, which was instrumental in informing his concept of a graphical user interface. The movie seems to attribute Mr. Jobs’ entire vision about what the personal computer could be to an LSD trip.
But the execution of the scenes Mr. Stern chose to focus on also generally failed. The dialogue was stilted and awkward, and Mr. Kutcher’s almost comical attempts to ape Mr. Jobs’ walking style and facial expressions were distracting. Although the story progressed pretty much chronologically (with the exception of the initial scene), and montages were used to condense time, in many cases there was simply not enough information provided about what happened during the condensed or skipped time to provide a proper foundation for the major scenes, resulting in confusing non sequiturs. Production values were sub-par, giving the movie a cheap, made-for-TV feeling despite cinematographic gimmicks that were widely used in an attempt to achieve a quality look.
People familiar with the story of Steve Jobs and Apple will leave this movie frustrated that it told the story in an incomplete and, more importantly, superficial manner without the depth, nuance and subtlety that would have brought true insight into the events and characters. And people who don’t know the story coming in will leave totally confused about Steve Jobs and Apple.
I can’t wait for the Aaron Sorkin film. In the meantime I think I’ll re-watch “Pirates of Silicon Valley”. Maybe Mr. Stern and Mr. Kutcher should, as well.