The biggest talking point upon the release of Steve Jobs’ biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson was that (shock horror) he was kind of a dick. The response was either really loud or very quiet, depending on how many Apple products you owned. (I haven’t read it.) That the response was so strong suggested the biography was perhaps more genuine than a puff piece that maintains the God-like image so many have of him.
Which makes Jobs, the latest Ashton Kutcher vehicle, so obviously lacking in its attempt to be genuine. I secretly hoped for a 160-minute eye opener with the kind of ferocity present in There Will Be Blood, such was Jobs’ bad temper but instead we were given 128 minutes of a script that felt so by the numbers it was rinsed of any true emotion. It’s not a play-by-play of the biography (those rights had already been snapped up by the Aaron Sorkin-penned upcoming Steve Jobs) but is more like an adaption of his Wikipedia entry.
We see him ambitiously stunted at college, walking around campus without shoes and ignoring his professors like a spoilt brat. He cheats co-founder Steve ‘Woz’ Wozniak out of his first Apple-related paycheck (because this is business and he’s ambitious!) and he screams in his car because things aren’t working out as he’d planned. If there’s any glue holding this together it’s the makeup team and full props to them: Kutcher certainly looks the part. However, after you’ve acknowledged “wow, that really does look like him” an eerieness starts to pervade: it’s just Ashton Kutcher with a beard.
Chapters—let’s call these scattered jump-cut segments that—are introduced with the year date and new haircuts. Of course, this is part and parcel when moving ahead whole years but Jobs does it in such a manner that it feels less like a biopic and more like an infomercial being aired at midday.
One gets the impression even director Joshua Michal Stern wasn’t convinced with the final product after all: in one shoutfest there were almost a dozen cutaways to his suffering staff. It occurred so many times that it ceased to function as a reaction shot and became an I-don’t-trust-Kutcher’s-performance-here-so-I’ll-edit-around-it scene. (The final cutaway was strangely out of focus.) This is a common directing and editing choice in a lot of films with regard to support characters, which is okay, but not a good sign when you’re doing it around your lead actor.
In all fairness it’s not entirely Kutcher’s fault. The film is frankly too far-reaching in its attempt to cover as much as possible, stopping just before the launch of the iPod. Written by Matt Whiteley it is an exercise of cramming-as-much-as-you-can into two hours and even then it feels oddly empty. Last year’s Margin Call was smart in its scope of the GFC: two hours that summarised the first twenty-four. There’s something to be said for the less-is-more approach as themes can be fully explored without it feeling rushed or overblown.
With Jobs we’re presented with the supposed back-story to one of the greatest entrepreneurs the world has seen but by the end most won’t learn a thing. The film ends with Jobs recording the voiceover to the advertisement that launches the iPod: at this point we’re supposed to applaud but it all feels oddly made up, as if the previous two hours really were an infomercial for a product we already own.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire