Following director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin’s cinematic take on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network,” we’re now going to get two films no less about Apple co-founder and late visionary, Steve Jobs.
The first film, titled simply “Jobs,” comes out August 16. It stars Ashton Kutcher, who sounds, looks and even walks exactly like his man. It’s an uncanny and fine performance that gives the viewer a protagonist that you sure wouldn’t want to work for but welcome the chance to spend a couple of mesmerizing hours watching.
This will be followed by Sorkin’s own upcoming adaptation for Sony of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the iconic innovator and entrepreneur.
I don’t know whether this is going to become one of cinema’s new sub-genres — the twisted genius/corporate bully biopic — but these are clearly fascinating, larger-than-life personalties well suited to the big screen. Who’s next — Bill Gates?
“Jobs” is something of a start-up itself, not unlike Apple, which began in Jobs’ parent’s garage. The film comes from a Dallas entrepreneur, Mark Hulme, who decided to create a film company and then got his corporate communications director, Matt Whitley, to write a script about Jobs based on public records and his own interviews.
So this is a script that few Hollywood screenwriters would pen and may be all the better for that. It does have a Hollywood director, Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote”), who has made a coolly efficient character study, warts and all, that unlike its hero spreads around credit for the invention and marketing of the home computer.
The movie begins with the launch of the iPod in 2001, then flashes back quickly to 1974 and the earlier life of this college dropout. The film feels a bit rushed here, although not unreasonably so since the movie wants to skip through Jobs’ slacker student/LSD-dropping/Indian spiritual tourist days to land him in the electronics field.
There are awkwardly written scenes here that betray Whitley’s inexperience with the screenplay format. One drags in James Woods as a Reed College (Portland, Oregon) professor to lecture young Jobs on the need for a degree, a scene that doesn’t advance the story on bit but only exists to show that Gates had no use for higher education.
As a frustrated video-game tekkie at Atari (does anyone remember Atari?), his boss says something quite prescient to Jobs: He’s good at what he does but he’s such an asshole.
This will never change, at least not by the time the film ends at the point that Apple, losing market share and unable to arrest its falling stock price, brings back the banished Jobs to resurrect the company. His first act — and last one in the movie — is to get rid of most of the board of directors.
So if the premise of “Citizen Kane” is that to seek love through possessions is a hollow pursuit, then “Jobs” posits that to seek excellence and change the world through a ruthless lack of compassion is equally as hollow.
But don’t tell any Apple customers that. Where would we be without our MacBooks and iPods?
(On a personal note, I met Jobs once, back in the late ’90s after he returned to Apple. He dropped by the Hollywood Reporter one day for a conference-room chat with the publisher and a few reporters. I can attest to the fact that Kutcher nails Jobs’ manners and speech perfectly along with that quiet self-confidence bordering on arrogance.)
Given his own project by his insightful Atari boss, Jobs nearly fails until his brainy pal Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Josh Gad) comes to his rescue. Looking about for what’s next, Jobs spies an interesting looking object on Woz’s cluttered workshop desk.
“That” turns out to be a small computer board Woz has invented but is unsure what to do with. Jobs knows exactly what to do with it. (News reports have indicated that Wozniak has disparaged this account, insisting that he certainly knew what to do with a personal computer.)
A local electronics-store owner orders a few units but it remains for former Intel engineer Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) to come aboard as the newly named Apple’s first investor.
The movie then traces the meteoric rise of Apple and the mercurial, scorched-earth approach by its design-obsessed co-founder as he bullies and fires people left and right. And ignores his first employees’ early contributions when the company finally does go public.
Similarly, Whiteley’s script discards subplots left and right in its laser-like focus on Jobs’ exacting vision and erratic behavior. A Hollywood writer would certainly have expanded on Jobs’ rejection of a daughter that almost certainly was his until late in life.
But Whiteley merely uses this as a means to express Jobs’ callousness rather than to play out that emotional scene when father did finally embrace daughter.
Nor does the film believe in back story. You get almost no sense of Jobs’ family life, whether that be his mom and dad (a briefly seen Leslie Ann Warren and John Getz) or his eventual wife and son.
His adoption is mentioned only in passing — you might even miss it — and the only scene with him in bed with a girl exists so, again, you recognize his extreme callousness. How he even knows Woz is never explained. The guy just appears.
For all the concentration on the title character, other actors do stand out, particularly Gad’s level-headed, easy-going Woz, Mulroney’s even-tempered and far-sighted Markkula and Matthew Modine as John Sculley, the former Pepsi exec recruited by Jobs who is forced to oust Jobs from the company he created.
Production designer Freddy Waff and composer John Debney give the picture just the right period details and music backgrounds to lend considerable authenticity, none more so than at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire, which served as a coming-out party for Apple II and for Jobs as a corporate salesman par excellence.
While much of the film was shot with that other valley, the San Fernando, masquerading as Silicon Valley, the production scored a coup when it was able to shoot in the actual Los Altos garage of Jobs’ adoptive parents. Holy ground to be sure.
Well, we’ll get another Jobs movie soon enough. According to Sorkin, his film will unfold in three real-time 30-minute scenes, each taking place before a product launch, the first being the Mac, the second one being NeXT (after Jobs was kicked out of Apple) and the third one being the iPod.
Opens: August 16, 2013 (Open Road)
Production companies: A Five Star Features Films production in association with IF Entertainment, Venture Forth, Silver Reel, Endgame Releasing and Virgin Produced
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, Ahna O’Reilly, John Getz, James Woods, Matthew Modine.
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Screenwriter: Matt Whiteley
Producers: Joshua Michael Stern, Mark Hulme
Executive producers: Bill Johnson, Jim Siebel, Sheri L. Deterling, Arthur E. Benjamin, Melina McKinnon, Michael Cain
Director of photography: Russell Carpenter
Production designer: Freddy Waff
Music: John Debney
Costume designer: Lisa Jensen
Editor: Robert Komatsu
PG-13 rating, 127 minutes