Many years ago when I was still practicing law representing major corporations, I met a young $20,000 a year bookkeeper working for one of the corporations I represented in Chicago. We became fast friends. He was eventually transferred to Los Angeles, and quit to take a CFO job with a small company that was then taken over by a huge conglomerate. The CEO of the conglomerate met him, liked him, and eventually promoted him to Chief Operating Officer of the entire corporation. He wanted me to become General Counsel but I declined. The point of this is that during most of our friendship he was a nice guy, a lot of laughs, who was very successful with women. However, as he obtained more power in the Corporation he would regale me with stories of how he was psychologically abusive to underlings who didn’t perform up to his high expectations. As his personality changed, we drifted apart. I mention this because watching Steve Jobs in this movie reminded me a lot of him, especially in the abusive way he treats underlings.
Unlike some recent movies claiming to be biopics but are sheer fiction, this tells the story of now legendary Jobs (Ashton Kutcher), the co-founder of Apple, by graphically capturing his mercurial personality. Jobs, who died young, transformed world society by developing a personal computer that was user-friendly and worked. While Bill Gates and his Microsoft get most of the credit for the spread of the personal computer, all they did was develop (or obtain from others) the software that runs what was originally the IBM PC (which hit the market half a decade after the first Apples). Jobs created the industry from scratch, actually building both the computers and software with no model from which to work. IBM and Gates basically took the concept from Jobs and claim credit for it.
Masterfully directed by Joshua Michael Stern from an effective script by Matt Whiteley, Jobs’ character is established at the beginning when he dumps his high school sweetheart when she becomes pregnant and continues to deny paternity. This establishes a puzzling dichotomy in his character. He is portrayed as constantly bothered by his being abandoned at birth by his birth parents, as someone who goes around the world to seek spiritual enlightenment, on the one hand, but on the other has no sympathy for someone he caused to enter the earth being abandoned by him, her parent, just as he was. Why wouldn’t he be über-sympathetic to a daughter he fathered out of wedlock instead of making her go through what he went through?
Poor Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad, in a sensitive performance) gets sort of short shrift here. He was the technical expert who actually designed and built the first Apple Computer, but he takes a back seat to Jobs’ volatile temperament. However, the movie is right on here because there are lots of great ideas. The ones that succeed are the ones that are driven by a leader with vision and the ability to market, manufacture, and deliver, and that was Jobs.
The movie barely touches on what Jobs did after he was summarily dismissed from Apple and started NEXT. It also virtually ignores Jobs’ development of the iPod and iPhone, and I would have dearly loved to have learned more about these periods of his life. But it is very good in showing how Jobs drove the initial startup of Apple, how he put the entire thing together, and created today’s world that is dominated by the personal computer.
One really nice thing about the movie is that the scenes of Jobs and Wozniak building the first Apple Computer in the garage of Jobs’ adoptive parents were shot in the real garage where they actually did the work. Knowing that is like watching history as its being made.
There are also fine performances by Dermot Mulroney as one of the first investors who becomes a Benedict Arnold to Jobs, Matthew Modine as John Sculley, recruited from Pepsi by Jobs himself to take over as CEO of Apple, only to take a big part in Jobs’ ouster, the always impressive J. K. Simmons as Chairman of the Board Arthur Rock, and Kevin Dunn as Gil Amelio, the Apple CEO who brings Jobs back on board, only to be dumped by Steve.
My cousin’s husband started and ran BBDO Mexico. Here’s what my cousin says about Jobs, “We had Apple as a client and introduced Apple II and Macintosh in Mexico. We went to an Apple event in Hawaii and met Steve Jobs. I remember him in a white shirt, red suspenders, and jeans. We danced…. He was cocky but who wouldn’t be…. A cool a—hole!” And that’s the way Kutcher plays him.
Kutcher gives an award-quality performance and looks so much like Jobs that when the cast is shown at the end of the film in side by side photos with the people they portrayed, it’s hard to tell which one is the real Jobs. Not only that, his walk is stunningly similar to the way Jobs walked. In fact, each member of the cast looks remarkably similar to the people they played except for Gad, who really doesn’t look too much like the real Wozniak.
Highlighted by Kutcher’s compelling performance, this is an entertaining and educational movie, capturing Jobs’ irritating personality marching to his own beat.