Steve Jobs rarely backed down from a challenge, but this film about his career at Apple, entitled simply “Jobs,” never meets the challenge of revealing the man behind the icon.
Portrayed by Ashton Kutcher from about age 20 to his late 40s, Jobs is shown as pensive, smirking, self-centered, with a log-sized chip on his shoulder. The motivation for Jobs’s love of perfection is not addressed here — unless auditing a calligraphy class and demanding a variety of fonts for his computers qualifies as an explanation.
It’s evident that genius Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) designed the first Apple computer and that Apple’s venture capitalists, Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney borrowing Ted Koppel’s hair) and Arthur Rock (somewhat vilified and played by J. K. Simmons), imposed controls upon Jobs that allowed Apple computers to come to market at an affordable price. Without their contributions it’s unlikely Apple would have survived to create iPods and iPhones.
Jobs is portrayed as an idea man who falls prey to his own perfectionism, resulting in cost overruns. Hanging out in the background, yet always on our minds, is Steve Wozniak. Woz — as he is known by friends — cares little about money and much about pursuing what interests him. As the years tick by, this confounded genius loses interest in a business he feels has lost its innovative edge. Gad, whose portrayal depicts Wozniak’s wheels turning slowly but steadily, gives a fine, multilayered performance that conveys Woz’s inward focus and consequent failure to predict the personal computing revolution. He needed Jobs to see it for him.
Throughout the film it appears that only Mulroney’s venture capitalist Mike Markkula truly supports Jobs’s vision until they momentarily disagree and Markkula is unceremoniously drummed off Apple’s board.
The film spends significant runtime watching Jobs pacing or walking through the empty rooms of his mansion. We see him orbited by others, and we see him discarding them once they’ve served their purpose. Perhaps this is who Jobs was — a man unable or unwilling to form attachments and, therefore, always positioned to eagerly explore the next new thing. The film is worth seeing in order to understand the price he paid for being Steve Jobs. Unfortunately his seeming inability to connect on a personal level makes him difficult to like or care about.
A movie bringing him more sharply into focus may only have existed inside the mind of Steve Jobs. Sadly that opportunity has passed.