The movie cuts off just as the great innovator faces cancer and unveils pioneering devices
San Francisco Chronicle
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 16, 2013
For most of its running time, "Jobs" is a satisfying account of the career of Steve Jobs, who rose to become one of the great entrepreneurs and technological innovators of our era. In the last half-hour, the movie slows down and starts to disappoint, and yet not so much that people with a particular interest in Jobs or the history of computers should avoid seeing it. At its best, it's a good picture, and at its worst, it's almost good.
Surprisingly, it doesn't fail in the ways some might expect. Ashton Kutcher is perfectly convincing as Jobs and is from his first minutes on screen. He looks like him, walks like him, and he gets into his skin. He looks at people the way Jobs looked at people, arrogantly, quizzically, skeptically, often amused but not especially friendly. Yet somehow Kutcher renders Jobs sympathetic by making viewers believe that they are seeing some peculiar strain of great man.
The movie avoids the obvious trap of whitewashing Jobs' personality and character. Far from it.
By the time his first boss tells him, "You're good, you're damn good, but you're an a———," audiences all over the world will be nodding their head. This is a guy who picks up a girl and chooses the moment he's sitting up in bed, putting his pants back on, to announce that he has a girlfriend. Later, when his girlfriend becomes pregnant, he has these consoling words for her: "I'm sorry you have a problem, but it's not happening to me. Get out of my house."
He bullies people, flies into rages. When he was starting out with computer genius Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), Jobs even cheats his sweet-natured friend out of more than $2,000. "Jobs" presents us with a man best seen from a distance, a cold-hearted person who takes pride in his coldness, who sees it as a form of strength. This characterization benefits the movie, making Jobs into someone people keep wanting to circle back to, examine and try to understand.
The film begins with a brief intro, set in 2001, in which Jobs unveils the iPod at a company meeting. Then we go back into the past and see Jobs in Reed College in Oregon, still auditing classes having dropped out, discovering eastern philosophy and calligraphy and taking hallucinogenic drugs. Eventually, he teams up with Wozniak and, in his parents' basement, they devise the first home computer. This is a familiar story, but, like the story of Edison and the light bulb and Bell and the telephone, it never really gets old.
Jobs, although not at all lovable, is certainly admirable. Before he is anybody, he has remarkable self-command and poise, and he understands something about the marketplace that few ever grasp: It's not just a matter of giving people what they want. It's about giving people what they don't know they want. It's about anticipating need and desire, and it's also about elegance. It's about marrying beauty and function.
A little bit more on what Jobs' and Wozniak's early machines actually did would have been welcome. Instead, the movie gets more and more bogged down in business details, which are interesting for a time, but not wholly absorbing. Another problem is that when Jobs is in conflict with his board of directors, it's not entirely certain who is right. We see Jobs spending lavishly and bullying his underlings, but we also see him insisting on quality.
But the main flaw of "Jobs" is that it limits itself to the ancient history of Jobs' rise and fall and rise at Apple and doesn't go beyond it. The movie might begin in 2001, but it never returns to the 21st century. Thus, all the dramatic events of Jobs' last dozen or so years aren't dealt with at all. There was the cancer that was supposed to be immediately fatal, that instead turned out to have a better prognosis. There was the iPhone, which changed the way people live their lives, then the iPad.
What could be more dramatic than a man, living with a death sentence, who keeps coming up with amazing, world-changing devices, just in a brief span of years? That's when Jobs went from a computer pioneer/entrepreneur to becoming one of the architects and designers of modern life. It's the 21st century Jobs who was the great man, not the earlier incarnation.
"Jobs" should have ended with Jobs' death, because that's really where the story ended. Instead, when the end comes, it feels arbitrary.