In some ways, Jobs fits the Hollywood boy-meets-girl love story formula, but with a key twist. The apples of Steve Jobs's eye are his company and his relentless drive for excellence, not a woman. Ashton Kutcher's breaks the mold of the lovable leading man with his riveting and sinewy portrayal of the obsessed Jobs, part-villain and part-hero. Kutcher has come a long way from That '70s Show and Two and a Half Men to a possible Oscar nomination for his performance as the ruthless but visionary force behind America's greatest mass-market computer company.
The film focuses on the core of Jobs' revolutionary being, his abusive behavior and his angry confrontations in the business world. He's truly the tortured, isolated soul of Apple. Like the hit 2010 film, The Social Network, the movie portrays computer nerds as heroes, rebels, innovators and entrepreneurs, hamstrung by the heavy hand of corporate America.
Jobs opens with the protagonist walking past a huge photo of Albert Einstein and unveiling the iPod as a “tool for the heart” to a standing ovation from his employees in 2001, and then flashes back to his humble roots as a barefoot dropout hanging around the Reed College campus in Portland, Oregon. We don’t see Jobs smoke any weed, but a pot plant grows on his porch and his girlfriend is shown at a party toking what appears to be a joint.
Certainly, plenty of cannabis was consumed in '70s in California's Silicon Valley, where most of the movie takes place. Jobs picks up a baggy of LSD from a woman he just slept with and callously tells her he wants the drug for his steady girlfriend. The soundtrack switches from the stony "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens to the frenetic “Allegro” from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 as the acid kicks in.
One of the film’s best sequences is a montage of Jobs' life-changing trip to India, shots of early computers and his vision to stand out from the crowd. He takes a job as a computer engineer at Atari in 1976 and is assigned to a video game project. Stymied by the technology, Jobs calls his childhood pal, Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), who helps him program Breakout, which becomes a hit. While he’s grateful to Woz, he shortchanges his friend by telling him the project is worth a fraction of the $5,000 he’s promised. While dropping the money off, he notices Woz's keyboard hooked up to a TV so you could see what you're working on - essentially a primitive personal computer. Next stop is a demo at the Home Brew Computer Club, the bastion of elite computer engineers. An electronics store owner takes notice and orders a bunch of computers, and they set up assembly in Jobs' family garage.
Trying to come up with a name for their new company, Woz suggests “Enterprise Computers,“ to which Jobs replies, “No Star Trek names!” In one of the film’s few light moments. Jobs suggests Apple, the fruit of creation. Woz points out that Apple is the Beatles' record label. Jobs insists he doesn’t dislike the Beatles, they’re just not Bob Dylan.
Soon Jobs becomes a rock star in his realm of Silicon Valley as the brilliant but angry young man who delivers the blockbuster Apple II computer. Success just makes him more relentless as he speeds into his parking spot in a Mercedes coupe and fires anyone who questions his unrealistic demands.
While Jobs succeeds at first with Apple, he's a total dick in his personal life, kicking his pregnant girlfriend out of their apartment and refusing to believe the baby is his (on a misison, he has no time to be a father). Jobs prevents some of the first Apple employees from getting any public stock in the company because he says they don’t deserve it. He puts his heart and soul into a computer project called Lisa that proves to be a disaster. As Apple grows, Jobs starts to lose control of the ship and gets ousted by his board of directors - not that uncommon in the technology world. Redemption soon awaits as he matures, reconciles with his daughter and rides back to rekindle the creative soul of the company with a laser focus on making great products instead of “sucking on the tail pipe” of IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Still, he retains his edge by axing Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), the first financier of Apple who brought the company out of the garage, but later makes the mistake of voting to get rid of Jobs the first time around.
More a dramatization than a documentary, the film leaves out plenty of fertile subjects, such as Jobs’ deal to buy Pixar from Star Wars creator George Lucas or Apple’s decision to accept hundreds of millions in cash from arch rival Microsoft. (There is a scene of Jobs screaming at Bill Gates over the phone for stealing his software.) The movie omits out the last several years of Jobs’ life when Apple regained its dominance and he was stricken with cancer.
Kutcher makes Jobs somewhat likable by portraying the icon’s many positive attributes: an ability to stick to his principles, and his creative energy and amazing salesmanship. J.K. Simmons shines as the shady chairman of Apple, Arthur Rock, who engineers Jobs' ouster. Gad stands out as the lovable genius Wozniak who never loses his soul to Apple. Matthew Modine does an admirable job as Apple CEO Richard Sculley in the film’s boardroom dramas, and Mulroney succeeds at at bringing the conflicted Markkula to life.
As Jobs says, “I’m not paid to be nice.” He's the hippie who changed the world. Boy creates company, boy loses company, boy gets it back. It’s a fascinating American story and Kutcher gets it right.
Jobs opens in theaters today.