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Film review: JOBS, from Built For Speed

Is Jobs, the biopic of Apple founder the late Steve Jobs, a gratuitous corporate sell or an insightful critique of a complex and highly influential person? Actually, it’s a bit of both.

Like David Fincher’s The Social Network, the film traces the ambitions, personal traumas and career trajectory of a brilliant but difficult computing pioneer. Jobs, however, is nowhere near as compelling and artful as Fincher’s film.  For a biopic of a man who prided himself on being a rebel and thinking outside the box, this movie is disappointingly formulaic and looks like an upmarket tele-movie.

Set in the period 1974 to 1996 we see Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) go from humble beginnings in his parents’ garage piecing together motherboards with his hairy college buddy Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) to a phenomenally successful but volatile career as a technology pioneer and corporate behemoth.  Along the way he loses touch with his roots and manages to alienate the friends who helped build the company.  He also allows his experimental side and no limits philosophy to get out of control making him the eternal nemesis of fiscally-minded company directors.

The film is determined to portray Jobs as a maverick genius and visionary and just in case the audience aren’t getting it, director Matt Whitely periodically plonks him under a picture of Albert Einstein. Whether he deserves this sort of reverence is debatable although Jobs certainly was a revolutionary thinker and his success in making computing easily accessible to the average Joe should never be underestimated. He also had a unique ability to cut through techno-babble and corporate-speak, to communicate his vision with clarity and passion and sell the human side of the product. Unfortunately, his quest to tweak the emotions of the technology-buying public also involved some hideously smug and soporific advertising campaigns that touted the products as the veritable saviours of mankind.

The film suggests that Jobs wasn’t just a techno-geek or a hard-nosed businessman, but a spiritual man who early on ditched uni and became a bearded, shoeless, acid-tripping, fruitarian hippy. Jobs may well have avoided meat and shoes but the depiction of him here seems like a clumsy and obvious attempt to make him appear cool. The film doesn’t shy away, though, from the fact that Jobs could be a very unlikeable character.  He’s often portrayed in this movie as egocentric, paranoid, prone to fits of rage, more than happy to sack someone for the slightest infraction and even willing to cut loved ones out of his life. He also has a disturbing penchant for skivvies.

Kutcher generally manages to suppress his typical adolescent goofiness to give an adequate if unremarkable performance as Jobs.  He is helped enormously by an excellent supporting cast which includes Demott Mulroney as a sneaky corporate puppet-master and J. K. Simmons (who was so memorable as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies) as the hard-ass Apple chairman.

Just as interesting as the depiction of Apple’s ascendancy and its corporate dramas is the film’s nostalgic and amusing insight into the early days of personal computing in the 1970’s. The simplistic blip-tennis video games and clunky computer housings may look ridiculous now but not so long ago they were phenomenally innovative.

This is a mostly-effective by-the-numbers biopic but given that the subject was such an innovative and complex character, it’s a surprisingly uninventive and ultimately underwhelming film.

 

Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Joshua Michael Stern.

Release date: 29th Aug 2013.

Running time: 128 mins.

 

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