News Column

How Steve Jobs Became a Visionary

Aug 15, 2013

"Jobs" is the sort of movie that puts us all on elephant patrol.

So let's deal with the elephant in the room first. Yes, Ashton Kutcher is very good playing Steve Jobs. What dread you may be harboring is quite unnecessary in that regard, I assure you. He's good enough, in fact, to make "Jobs" probably the acting graduation film that he no doubt intended it to be.

He's been a proven sitcom star and sketch comic whose zest exceeds his comic ability. He's also been, up to now, a feature film also-ran. And now he's finally proved himself a worthy actor in a theatrical feature playing the man who gave us the Apple computer, the Macintosh and the iPod.

He'll still, no doubt, be treated as little more than a "cute boy" even when he's at the age where men start taking medications for their heart and their prostate but, at least, his highest achievement in show business by then, won't be rescuing CBS' "Two and a Half Men" from Charlie Sheen's pharmacological high jinks.

It isn't Kutcher that's the problem; it's Joshua Michael Stern's movie "Jobs" that's the problem.

Steve Jobs is a great subject for a book, that's for certain. It has already proven to be a couple of times. A Steve Jobs movie is a different matter altogether as this movie so thoroughly proves.

It's a good movie as far as it goes. Kutcher is OK and there's no question that in the right hands there ought to be a movie that's an authentic Romance of American business. And Jobs, the driven obsessive whose company helped give us the devices that have radically transformed American life in the 21st century, certainly ought to be a worthy subject for such a movie.

It doesn't begin to go far enough.

If you think of "Jobs" as kind of a companion movie to "The Social Network" -- another movie about a man who seems to be about equal parts visionary and jackass -- "Jobs" seems to be as much computer program as it is movie script. In "The Social Network," it's true that the whole point of the movie seemed to be "just how much of a jackass IS this guy anyway?" But the writing of Aaron Sorkin had so much of his Ninja blade slashing through language and dialogue that it was always a pleasure to behold.

"Jobs" is never less than watchable. It is never without its rhetorical and dramatic flourishes, too. But if you're hoping to have any deeper understanding of Jobs when the movie is over, forget it.

The whole movie seems to be the dramatic answers to a giant computer search engine. Under "visionary," you can search out "business badass" and "brilliant collector of wildly creative freaks and misfits" and "imaginer of computers as integral parts of everyone's life." You'll find exemplary scenes in "Jobs" illustrating each.

Under "jackass," you can find the subcategories "cold fish," "family washout," "malicious megalomaniac" and "manipulator and misuser of almost everyone." You'll find adequate scenes illustrating all of those, too.

Lots of luck connecting the dots.

Here is a man, after all, who starts out at Reed College as an aromatic, barefoot dropout with bad hygiene and a willful inclination to study whatever Reed, in its genius, will allow him to. He grows up to be the sort of fellow who parks in his company's handicapped space in the parking lot. And who eats only fruit. And listens to Dylan. And keeps an omnipresent picture of Einstein on the wall throughout his life.

He discards business partners, associates, co-workers and underlings as if they were Big Mac wrappers once their usefulness to him is consumed. He is even less interested in the baby he fathers in his youth -- so much so that he claims at first she's not his even though blood tests say otherwise. (We do see him cry over her impending existence, though. Don't ask why. You'll never know.)

When that girl suddenly shows up as a college student oversleeping on his living room couch toward the end of the film, don't expect to hear Word One about how she got there. This movie, with its computer programmed dramatic issues, couldn't care less.

All it wants to tell you is about his ferocious business acumen and dedication to excellence and his uncanny vision of how America would be living in a very near future.

Which, to be sure, is a heck of a story and very much worth doing as well as it's done here. But the movie's incompetence I think lays in not giving you the answer to almost any human question you might have. (How did he GET that way? Did his father, played by John Getz, have anything to do with it? His mother, played by Lesley Anne Warren, whose single close-up in the movie lasts a mere fraction of a second?). By film's end it all becomes a wee bit infuriating, if you ask me.

We're ready, no doubt, for a well-done educational romance set in the American business world.

What I'm personally not ready for, I confess, is cinematic scripture about a business world deity who creates heaven and earth, and then storms around having tantrums and vendettas, almost all of which surpasseth all understanding.

Worth seeing, to be sure, even if, when it's all over, you'll almost literally have gotten nothing out of the experience.


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