In the opening scene of “Jobs,” the resemblance of star Ashton Kutcher to the ailing Steve Jobs was so great that I thought it was archival film footage–-until the camera moved in for a close-up and we heard Kutcher’s voice. Dressed in the “uniform” that Jobs almost always wore (a black long-sleeved Issey Muyake mock turtleneck, Levi’s 501 blue jeans and New Balance 991 sneakers) Kutcher captures the physical man, including his odd walking gait, as he stepped onstage in 2001 to introduce the Ipod . Say what you will about the over-long movie (2 hours, 20 mins.), this is Kutcher’s finest hour as an actor. He does a great job with material that may—or may not—-be totally historically accurate.
Steve Wozniak weighed in regarding Jobs on the blog Gizmodo on August 16, 2013:
“I saw the (Jobs) movie tonight. I thought the acting throughout was good. I was attentive and entertained, but not greatly enough to recommend the movie. One friend who is in the movie said he didn’t want to watch fiction so he wasn’t interested in seeing it.
I suspect a lot of what was wrong with the film came from Ashton’s own image of Jobs. Ashton made some disingenuous and wrong statements about me recently (including my supposedly having said that the movie was bad, which was probably Ashton believing pop press headlines) and that I didn’t like the movie because I’m paid to consult on another one. These are examples of Ashton still being in character. Either film would have paid me to consult, but the Jobs one already had a script written. I can’t take that creative leadership from someone else. And I was turned off by the Jobs script. But I still hoped for a great movie.
As to compromising principles for money, I will add one detail left out of the film. When Apple decided not to reward early friends who helped, I gave them large blocks of my own stock. Because it was right. And I made it possible for 80 other employees to get some stock prior to the IPO so they could participate in the wealth. I felt bad for many people I know well who were portrayed wrongly in their interactions with Jobs and the company. The movie ends pretty much where the great Jobs finally found product success (the iPod) and changed so many of our lives. I’m grateful to Steve for his excellence in the I-era, and his contribution to my own life of enjoying great products, but this movie portrays him having had those skills in earlier times.”
Steve Wozniak is portrayed by Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon”). Gad also does a stellar job portraying the idiosyncratic partner to the hard-driving Jobs. The scene where Woz (quoted above) tearfully tells Jobs he is leaving the company they built together is as fine a piece of supporting actor work as Noah Hill’s Oscar-nominated turn opposite Brad Pitt in “Moneyball.” (“Not everyone has an agenda, Steve. It’s about yourself. You’re the beginning and the end of your own world and it’s gotta’ be sad and lonely.”)
The film makes it clear that Woz was the technical computing genius and Jobs the marketing guru. In fact, Apple executive Bud Tribble even coined a term for the Jobs magic in 1981: the “reality distortion field.”
What does that mean? It refers to the ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything is possible, using charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing savvy, appeasement and persistence. Jobs was the consummate salesman, but he was also a visionary. Back in 1995, eighteen years ago, in an interview with David Morrow of the Computerworld Smithsonian-Awards Program (April 20, 1995) Jobs said: “The Internet is the one bright spot of hope in the computer industry for some serious innovation to happen at a rapid pace…It is going to radically change the way goods and services are discovered, sold, and delivered not only in this country, but around the world.”
The film opens with Jobs introducing the Apple Ipod at a 2001 Apple Town Hall meeting, then flashes back to 1974, portraying Jobs’ days as a drop-out on campus at Reed College. He’s still hanging around taking classes that interest him, such as a calligraphy class. He tells a dean, played by James Woods, that “higher education comes at the expense of experience” and he and a friend travel to India for seven months.
But Steve Jobs sees the future of personal computers and announces to the few who work with him at first to create this new device, “We’re working in a market that doesn’t even exist yet.”
Jobs and Woz design computer boards in his father’s garage and Jobs finds a small businessman willing to purchase 400 units for $500 per unit. It isn’t until Mike Markaloe (Dermot Mulroney) gives the small start-up group $90,000 in seed money that things really take off, however, and at that moment we see that Jobs can be a shrewd negotiator. In fact, he is portrayed as money-grubbing when he calls Steve Wozniak in to help him with the technical challenge of meeting a deadline for the computer, telling him that the pay is $700 when it is really $5,000. With the task complete, Jobs gives the accommodating Wozniak $350 and quietly pockets the lion’s share himself. Jobs never joined in the Bill Gates/Warren Buffett pledge to donate their fortunes to charity after their death, and was supposedly worth $8.3 billion in 2010, the 42nd wealthiest American and #17 on Forbes’ magazine World’s Most Powerful People.
From their humble beginnings in his father’s garage (the original Jobs home in Palo Alto was used for filming), the Jobs film recycles truths from the master like these: “If we wanna’ be great, we gotta’ risk it, too. I would rather gamble on our mission than on a ‘Me, too’ product.” He says at one point, “In your life, you only get to do so many things, and we’ve chosen to do this, so let’s make it great.” Later: “We’re selling it (the Apple) as a tool for the mind. The belief in the possible, the limitless. Come with me and change the world.”
The chintzy side of Jobs is portrayed and his egomaniacal streak is clearly visible. He is temperamental and fires people seemingly at random. The project manager for the Macintosh, Jeff Raskin, said of him, “He would have made a good King of France.” He is told by his board, “You are your own worst enemy and this company’s.” Jobs wanted to “create something useful that you care about.” His drive and passion for excellence, however, are not shared under CEO John Scully (formerly of Pepsi) and he is forced out in a power play. Jobs went on to start a smaller company called NeXt. It would be eleven years— (especially rocky years for the company he co-founded) —before then CEO Gil Amelio (Kevin Dunn) would come calling to lure Jobs back to Apple as a consultant.
Steve returns to the company he founded, but ultimately forces out both Amelio and his first initial investor/ backer, Mike Markaloe (Dermot Mulroney), an act of revenge for not backing Jobs in the coup that ousted him from the company he founded eleven years earlier. Steve Jobs’ mentality: “You’re either with me or against me.”
Jobs’ personal life is largely ignored in this bio-pic. There is a passing reference to his being given up at birth for adoption , but it’s very casual, pictured as a small remark made in passing to his girlfriend while dropping acid (“Who has a baby and then throws it away like it’s nothing?”) In real life, Jobs found he had a biological sister and became close to her later in life, but he remained estranged from his biological father even when his father tried to seek him out, and there is no mention of his father or his sister in the film.
The remark regarding throwing away a child seems ironic in the context of the film’s revelation that for years Jobs denied his own biological daughter, Lisa–-conceived with his first girlfriend. (Later, Lisa lives with Jobs and his wife Laurene Powell Jobs (Abby Brammell).
Most of the lines in the film are taken from interviews and statements by Jobs himself and were woven into a screenplay by screenwriter Matt Whiteley. The film was directed by Joshua Michael Stern.
It’s a fascinating character study of a man whom students between the ages of 16 and 26, (asked in a survey to name the greatest innovator of all time), ranked second only to Thomas Edison. And it may serve to repair Ashton Kutcher’s image in the same way that Ben Affleck finally distanced himself from flops like “Gigli” and “Pearl Harbor” by directing and starring in “The Town” and this year’s Best Picture,