Gizmodo reader Seth Kinkaid was one of the first people to watch jOBS—the first Steve Jobs' biopic starring Ashton Kutcher—at Sundance 2013. These are his impressions.
Today I saw jOBS at Sundance, the story of a young Steve Jobs, the now legendary co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer. And although I know it may be inaccurate and exaggerated, it was the experience I wanted.
I wasn't sure exactly what I would get, but it turned out to be surprisingly nice. It was... satisfying. It also proved that I could enjoy Ashton Kutcher's acting as Silicon Valley's most prized CEO. Although his performance wasn't perfect, it felt right. The rest of the movie was just as good.
The film was directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote, 2008) and written by a very young screenwriter by the name of Matt Whiteley. I was very intrigued for a number of reasons… the first being that there already had been an indie film back in 1999, Pirates of Silicon Valley, starring Noah Wyle (who uncannily looks just like Steve Jobs).
The other reason being that pretty much everyone I knew understood who Steve Jobs was, what he had done in his life, and had heard about and/or was impacted by his death in late 2011. Not too long ago after Jobs' death, I had finished Walter Isaacsons' Steve Jobs—a remarkable detailed journey of his entire life, dictated by Jobs himself.
I felt I had a pretty good grip on who exactly Steve Jobs was, what his personality was like, and what Apple was all about. As a child I had been fascinated with computers and jumped into that technological world. I worked mostly on PC's up until I was 17. Heading into the world of graphic arts, I had bought my first Mac Pro in 2006 and never looked back. From a designers' standpoint, Apple blew me away, from their marketing to their polished machines.
So with that type of influence over the years, and a large dosage of Steve Jobs from interviews, articles, and keynotes—I was, needless to say, very excited for this film. Would they accurately portray the startup of Apple? Could Ashton Kutcher get Jobs' candor down, how insensitive he could sometimes be, but also his brilliance? I awaited in earnest.
It was now 8:30AM and our line was ushered in. My girlfriend was with me, and being 8th in line, we got to some pretty fantastic seats. The presenter for the film came out and introduced what we were about to embark on; they mentioned that the director would be present for a Q&A after the film. The lights were dimmed, and finally (after much anticipation), jOBS began.
The credits played in Helvetica Neue Light typeface; splicing from top and bottom and coming together to spell the names of the actors. Soon after the title came on; a logo custom made for the film, I presume—in 1970's fashion.
The opening scene was set in an Apple meeting, an older Steve Jobs walks leisurely to a podium. The camera follows from directly behind his head so you only see the peripheral. There is an applause, and obviously this is an important meeting. The crowd watches intently as Steve Jobs starts to talk. At this point we see his face, and I internally gasped as we get to see Ashton Kutcher donning a mid-40's look, beard, and a spitting image of the late Steve Jobs. He congratulates Apple on their recent success and then talks about creating something new… the iPod. The camera zooms into his eyes slowly as there is applause and cheer in the background. We are slowly swept into Jobs' college years; 1976.
As I watched, I was acutely aware of Ashton Kutcher the actor. The beginning parts of this film were in 1976, and Kutcher is well-known for his part in That 70's Show. Yet as the film moved forward and we are introduced to other key parts of the cast, most notably Josh Gad playing Steve Wozniak, I began to see Steve Jobs and not Ashton Kutcher. I was immediately aware of the idiosyncrasies that I had seen the real Jobs have in keynotes and that they were suddenly being sucked into Kutchers' performance. Within minutes I had forgotten I was watching an actor. He even got Jobs' lanky, lurching walk down to a science. Kutcher nailed his character, and I realized this as he looked more and more like Jobs, and less like himself.
jOBS had a cheery retro feel to it. It covered key scenes of Jobs being a college drop-out and of his time in India. I was nervous they might skip this, as India and its impact on Jobs was integral to how he saw life.
The film also had a pretty decent soundtrack, often donning Jobs most worshipped musician; Bob Dylan. It flowed with energy and kept the film lively during transitional scenes. We also got to see a whole number of late 70's vehicles, for instance, the Ford Pinto—and later on, his beloved black Porsche.
There were pleasant comedic scenes involving Wozniak and Jobs, during their younger years—just before Apple Computers would become realized. As soon as Jobs understood that Wozniak had a natural talent for creating incredible "personal" computers, the idea is planted, and Jobs takes the reigns; everything is set into motion.
I don't think they left anyone out in jOBS, sans Bill Gates (there was a scene of an enraged Jobs screaming on the phone at Gates), but all the key players were there; Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), Arthur Rock (J.K. Simmons), and of course, John Sculley (Matthew Modine). I was impressed. Whoever did the casting for this film deserves an award. All the actors looked like their parts, and I would later learn that the director had each one passionately go over their characters' history.
The cinematography was crisp, clean and often had shoulder-level shots of Jobs traipsing through hallways and meetings. Late 70's and early 80's haircuts were all in place. Everything had a warm glow to it. Many close-ups were used and surprisingly for their budget, several helicopter shots of Jobs driving down the highway and even of the Apple campus.
If you know the history of Steve Jobs, you already know how this story will be told. Jobs is a college drop-out; he starts Apple with a small band of friends in his parents garage (filmed at the original location!). He ends up having issues with his girlfriend at the time, and his soon-to-be-daughter, Lisa is mentioned (Lisa is briefly shown, played by Annika Bertea). Jobs rises and then is ousted by his board of directors, as the CEO Gil Amelio (played by Kevin Dunn) betrays him. NEXT Computers is created and suddenly Apple is wanting Jobs back in the game. I was glad Stern decided to keep some of NEXT in the film, because it was an integral part to Jobs life story.
Being a designer I perked up during some of the scenes with the art department of Apple. There were several scenes with Jonathan Ive, played by a much thinner actor. They did a brief yet respectful task of showing some of Jobs beginning friendship with Ive and how he always wanted Ive to be brutally honest. Jobs trusted him with the progression of Apples products.
But not all was cheery for the film. Many scenes featured an incredibly energetic Jobs; prideful and hurt—even to the point of outrage. Some scenes showed him crying and even screaming. If they hadn't of had this I would have been pretty disappointed. The real Steve Jobs had a reputation for being rash, emotional, and even childish. Kutcher handled the intensity so well, you could feel the stillness in the theater after he would yell at a subordinate.
Near the end of jOBS, I could feel the film starting to come to a close. The budget was estimated to be $8,500,000 and I already felt it was a much better film that held its own, compared to 1999's Pirates of Silicon Valley. It felt like a cohesive story about who Steve Jobs was as a human being. It told a story of a man who braved to be himself, not get pushed around and yet push others around to get exactly what he wanted. Kutchers' performance was uncanny and yet I felt, not all perfect. A crying scene had me seeing Kutcher acting rather than truly crying.
We were told by the director that Kutcher didn't stop being Jobs on set—he was in character for the entire shooting of the film. However, Gad's performance as Wozniak was touching and softened the aggressive behavior by Jobs.
Josh Gad deserves to be awarded for his part in playing Steve Wozniak. Michael Stern told us afterward that he believed the story was about Jobs, yet Wozniak was the heart of the film. The cast was a mix of well-known and not well-known actors and actresses. The cinematography was great, with only a few slow motion scenes that I didn't feel were needed. The typefaces used for the credits were simple and to the point. The score was well created and not overly distracting. By the wrap-up, I not only felt satisfied, but apparently the audience did as well; clapping up a storm and eager to ask questions.
I highly recommend you see jOBS if you are wanting a well-made independent film about a man that changed the world and influenced generations to come. I left the film with a satisfied audience and felt proud of the experience we had. Overall, I give the film a 4 out of 5 stars. Go see this film!