As an actor, Ashton Kutcher is very tall. He also owns his “smug asshole” shtick. Both of these qualities are an asset as the titular Apple Computer cofounder Steve Jobs. In this surprisingly conventional and yet oddly mysterious biopic, the venerated genius spends a hell of a lot of screen time being a jerk, to everyone and anyone.
This is laudable on the part of the filmmakers. Jobs makes the obvious perfectly clear: If you’re a visionary who rises to the top of the business world, you must be, by definition, an asshole. He’s cheap, duplicitous, ruthless and paranoid, and when his pregnant girlfriend tells of his impending fatherhood, he throws her out of the house and refuses to even acknowledge paternity.
These “foibles” make it even more impressive that, as a viewer, we stay on Jobs’ side through all the corporate and personal intrigue. It’s because Jobs is a genius, and the film shows this. He really does understand things his competitors—and, often, his colleagues—do not. The film gets at the excitement of conquering new worlds, and Jobs’ role in this.
Director Joshua Michael Stern relies too much on storytelling clichés, however. His greatest sin here is the expository montage set to iconic rock music: Joe Walsh for the circuit-board assembly line in his parents’ garage; faux-REO Speedwagon for the ascent to power; Dylan for declining fortunes; Cat Stevens for iconic life-changing moments of transcendence. (Clearly, Stern hasn’t seen Team America: World Police.) He also gets pan-happy with the camera, the superfluous movement often abetted by an annoyingly swelling score.
And yet Jobs is mysterious, too, because we don’t know any more about Steve Jobs the person at the end of this movie than we do at the beginning. It’s hard to tell if this is because the filmmakers respect the unknowable nature of human personality, or because they couldn’t figure him out, either. The film begins with the middle-age genius introducing the iPod. Impeccably made-up (complete with thinned-out hair), Kutcher is warm, emotional and sentimental for the only time in the picture. After this opening, the film flashes back to his college days, and tells his story up to the point in the 1990s when Jobs regained control of Apple. What made him change in the interim? His family? All those sweet Pixar/Disney millions?
Despite being overlong and overemphatic, Jobs still leaves us feeling like we’ve spent time with someone worth knowing—even if we can’t know him at all.