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The history of Apple is long, complicated and utterly fascinating. It features betrayals, takeovers, an airplane crash, communism and a hell of a lot of innovation. It spans decades, includes a large number of important players and has made great fodder for several books. In theory, it would make great fodder for several movies too. Unfortunately, writer Matt Whiteley and director Joshua Michael Stern have decided to try and jam all of those hypothetical movies into one single film and add tidbits about founder Steve Jobs’ complicated personal life to boot. Is the resulting product a biopic, a highlight video featuring the biggest moments in Apple’s history or a goofy story about some weird kids trying to build computers out of a garage? Jobs has no idea. It’s a combination of all three, which makes for a disorganized but still frequently fascinating movie.
At its best, Jobs is a pretty effective look into the title innovator’s mind, particularly when he was a younger man first getting into business. It gives us scene after scene of him pushing, striving and refusing to be content, many of which are riveting. The consequences of his aggressive attention to detail may have cost Apple millions while he was running one of the biggest companies in the world, but that same mentality was costing co-founder Steve Wozniak untold amounts of time when he was complaining about the circuit boards not looking right when they were first being assembled inside a garage. He was born a perfectionist, and he died a perfectionist.
At its worst, Jobs is beset by the exact same pacing problems, clarity issues and supporting character confusions you would expect from a movie that spans decades. From a storyline involving Jobs’ birth parents, to a mean-spirited and frankly sickening custody battle, to random projects he works on, the film has a habit of bringing issues like these up as asides and then dropping them just as quickly. Obviously, all involved want to create the fullest, most layered story possible, but that can’t be done in runtime that’s just a wink over two hours. This movie would be exponentially better if it were called Twenty-Something Jobs or Jobs, Woz And The First 2 Apples.
As it stands, it’s just called Jobs, and it opens with our title character (Ashton Kutcher) wasting away his life at Reed College. He’s aimless, conceited and not nearly as technologically adept as he’d like to be - a fact proven overtly when he takes a job at Atari, volunteers for a complicated project and is forced to call in his pal Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Josh Gad) to do it for him. His friend is a real whiz with circuit boards and video games, and it just so happens he’s building his own personal computer for fun. Jobs instantly recognizes the potential in the idea and convinces his tech genius buddy to start Apple. Progress is slow at first, but when Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) shows up with a suitcase full of cash in exchange for thirty percent of the company, the rise is swift and very well-publicized.
Of course, the initial high doesn’t last. Taking the company public adds a board of directors led by Arthur Rock (JK Simmons) and a slew of shareholders who don’t necessarily share Jobs’ vision for the future. The resulting friction plays out slowly and over a long period of time. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take the easy road and tell us Jobs is a saint one hundred percent of the time, nor does it make him out to be a raving, unreasonable lunatic. He consistently pushes for innovation, and the board consistently tries to keep him on a budget.
Kutcher is actually very good as Jobs. He’s a spitting image of the pioneer in his younger days, and he’s able to handle the emotional load. Many of the exchanges between the characters are informative without feeling like they’re merely trying to advance the plot, and there are a nice number of smiles to be had. Jobs does far more right than it does wrong, but the script is just all over the place in terms of subject matter, and that makes it really hard to care deeply enough about anything that’s happening.
If you’re interested in the history of Apple or want to see Kutcher show that he has actual acting talent, Jobs is definitely worth a look. If you’re looking for something snappy or, more importantly, organized, there are better choices to see this weekend.