Biopics are tricky beasts. At their best, they can provide deeper insight into their protagonists–even when certain details are combined, eliminated or otherwise fictionalized. On the other end of the spectrum lie a plethora of problems, such as blasé regurgitation of known facts, focusing on either too much or too little of someone’s life, and/or reducing the subject’s life to a highlight reel show with no real substance. One would hope that a movie such as Jobs, about one of the great creative visionaries of our time, would be inspired by the same creative spark. Alas, that hope is sadly not realized.
Hit the jump for my review of Jobs on Blu-ray.
Jobs, of course, traces the life of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (played by Ashton Kutcher). The film begins with the unveiling of perhaps his most groundbreaking and revolutionary device, the iPod–and also the symbolic triumph of his return. The film then jumps back to his time in college and early work years at Atari before co-founding Apple with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad). The combination of overly single-minded determination and a certain cold callousness to the people with which he works eventually lead to his ouster from the company he created. Years later, a somewhat subdued Jobs is welcomed back to Apple after the company has all but gone bankrupt without his creative vision to guide it.
Jobs falls into the “highlight reel” style of biopic, rarely scratching beneath the surface or shedding new light on its subject. Matt Whiteley’s screenplay plays like Screenwriting 101, not only transparently predictable but so blatant in its set-ups, tells and callbacks as to feel forced, if not force-fed. Give the audience credit the script does not. The one thing for which the writing deserves merit is that, despite extolling if not flat out admiring Jobs and his vision, it does not hold back on revealing his dark side–indeed, the ugly side of Jobs’s character is played so coldly and without rationalization that the film seems to rely on the hero worship and respect for his creativity to keep him likable. To top it off, the changes in Jobs’s character after his expulsion from Apple to his return are ridiculously abrupt, as if the viewer is expected to assume that this downfall was enough to trigger an internal reexamination without exploring the process that follows.
Joshua Michael Stern’s direction does nothing to life the weak screenplay, breezing through the story with the same lightness of hand, whether simply hampered by the script or equally uninspired, it is hard to tell. Cinematography and editing are serviceable if unspectacular, but the design elements stand out for their recreation of the 1970s and 1980s. Make-up and hair in particular deserve mention for bringing Jobs and Wozniak to life–as do Kutcher and Gad, who embody the roles to their fullest, capturing the slightest nuances of the two Steves to the extent that we know them from their public appearances. As a whole, the acting is the strongest feature of the film.
The 2.35 picture, while crisp and clear as we have to come expect from digitally shot features, lacks a certain punch. There are some odd choices here, such as orange tinting the 1970s sequences to no real purpose and adding fairly heavy grain to the opening iPod unveiling scene as if to simulate a low-grade video camera. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds fine, although neither the mix nor soundtrack as a whole pushes the envelope–not that it should, considering the type of movie it is.
The disc is light on special features. Stern’s director commentary is actually fairly informative, especially when it comes to some of the shortcomings in the story. Also included are deleted scenes and three very brief featurettes, none longer than 3 1/2 minutes: “Ashton Kutcher is Steve Jobs”, “The Legacy of Steve Jobs” and “Jobs: Behind the Score”. No great shakes any of them.
In conclusion, Steve Jobs was a remarkable man and one of the most important non-political figures of the last forty years. A great movie exists in his life story. Sadly, Jobs is not it, despite the admirable efforts of Kutcher and Gad bringing Jobs and his partner Wozniak to life.