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Where’s the entertainment in film about Steve Jobs?

By Gary Clift

It is wonderfully difficult to explain the reverence with which the film “Jobs” recalls the life and exploits of its title character, one of Apple Computers’ founders and its long-time pitch-man. While the movie certainly shows that Steve Jobs, played fairly convincingly by Ashton Kutcher, was egomaniacal and, to be kind, unpleasant, it also treats him as a sort of moral hero.

Unfortunately, the facts of the case seem to be against this interpretation. Even given that Jobs insisted on the quality manufacture of innovative products, surely we could claim the same of many corporate bosses. And none of the others, I suspect, would get the same kind of admiring treatment in a biopic.

The movie is, on the side, a sort of history of Apple during the two stretches when Jobs ran it—from the founding to his firing in the 1980s and from his re-elevation to the Chief Economic Officer position in 1996 to his death in 2011. He saw several important company products through their development—the inexpensive Apple 2, the expensive Macintosh, and the iPod.

But the company began in his garage. College drop-out Jobs and a few friends manufactured a small computer assembled on a printed circuit and designed by his childhood friend Steve Wozniak. After learning that their potential customers wanted a product that was ready to use, the company began building the Apple 2, which had a period of great popularity.

They were then joined by a businessman named Mike Markkula (played here by Dermot Mulrooney in another of his believable turns). Expansion followed. But the ruthless Jobs decided to cut a couple of the original assemblers out of shares when company stock was issued to the public.

Jobs was, if the film is right, single-minded, cruel, frequently angry, and jealous of all competitors. There is some irony in the film’s depiction of several occasions when Apple employees and public relations types denigrated IBM. Over the last three years Big Blue’s stock has doubled in price while Apple’s has slid forty percent or there abouts.

The last time Apple shares dropped so much in price, it was because the Macintosh proved to be difficult to design, easy to copy, and expensive to purchase. This was in the 80s, and the board of Apple eventually fired Jobs. He later got revenge when he returned as CEO and fired Markkula, a character the film makes difficult to dislike.

The movie works as a series of music pieces interspersed with images of Kutcher walking in Jobs’s bent-over posture and of speeches the man makes to employees (usually praising innovation) and to administrators (waxing self-righteous). There really isn’t a story here.

Nor is there an attractive character we follow. We see “The Woz” (played by Josh Gad) a few times during the film, but we never understand his willingness to go along with Jobs or his special contribution to the reputation of the company. Matthew Modine has a significant turn as John Sculley, the Pepsi head (he oversaw the “Pepsi Challenge” promotion) who Jobs hired as Apple’s boss. When Sculley agreed to Jobs’ banishment, he earned the title character’s enduring hatred.

What do we actually learn about Jobs himself? Not much. He was adopted and later, at least for a while, he refused to acknowledge his own daughter. He did some gardening. He parked in stalls reserved for people who have trouble walking.

And that’s about it. The movie (like Apple Computers, some of those less devoted to the brand might say) is for guys who like to look. But even they are going to get tired of looking at the board room and at offices where long-haired designers and electricians work.

So I’m not quite sure I know who the movie “Jobs” was intended to entertain. Apple’s shareholders? I don’t think even those who share the notion that there is something essentially good about what Jobs did are going to think this thin depiction of a very unpleasant man is much fun to watch, especially given the two and a half hour running time.

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