The businessperson-as-hero is a particular sub-genre of Hollywood movie making, along with the lawyer-as-hero. Elsewhere in world cinema, corporate life is not the stuff of magic. Jobs is the latest entry in this genre, with the helmsman of Apple now appearing as The Chosen One who ushered in an era of keyboard-based jollity for one and all.
When he was trying to recruit John Sculley from Pepsi to be Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs famously asked him “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” They certainly changed the world, although it’s debatable whether it was for the better. I certainly don’t think we are happier today, now that we have become slaves to the machine, staring at screens all day long.
In that vein, it’s refreshing to see another take on Steve Jobs. Here, he is a bullying autocrat who sacks people in the midst of meetings. He is a contradictory character too. At times, Jobs is charming and inspirational, while at others, he’s a person that it is very difficult to like. The Jobs movie makes a good effort in showing his life story as he changes from a barefoot hippy into a ruthless executive.
The scene shifts from the 1970s to 2001 and back again, giving Ashton Kutcher plenty of scope for showing his authoritative portrayal of the character. As all the press coverage has pointed out, his young Jobs is eerily similar to the real McCoy. It’s only when you actually see the movie that you also realise that Kutcher has mastered the older Jobs too. This goes right down to his peculiar loping walk, as if he has trod on chewing gum with every step. Up to now, Kutcher has mostly been the star of lightweight Hollywood froth, so it is nice to see him get a major role and run with it. Perhaps he is on a similar career path from pin-up to serious actor as to that taken by Johnny Depp and Ben Affleck.
The movie is also about the real brains behind Apple’s early breakthroughs: Steve Wozniak. Played by Josh Gad, he is a breath of fresh air as one of the few normal, non-materialistic people around. Watching ‘Woz’ developing the first personal computer in his bedroom is a reminder that back in the 1970s, people could still change the world without recourse to vast laboratories or teams of workers. It’s like a step back to the era of gentleman scientists such as Voltaire and Newton.
That’s the fun part of the story. On the other hand, the business setting does lead to one or two surreal moments. In several scenes, dramatic stirring music plays and you feel like you should be feeling excited, proud or thrilled by the achievements of the characters. Unfortunately, no music in the world can disguise the fact that up on the screen, all you see are a bunch of suits in a meeting, or milling around at a trade fair, or staring at a grey plastic box.
The real Woz and other commentators have been pretty critical of the film, mostly on grounds of what really happened. That is a charge that can be levelled at any work about the past, be it a movie, novel, book or biography. This is why academics use two words: history (what really happened) and historiography (what people write about what happened). The latter is always a work of fiction to a greater or lesser extent. Jobs the movie is no different.
In terms of this film, don’t be put off by the negative criticism. I found it a very pleasant way of passing a couple of hours and getting a sneak peak behind the scenes of the world’s biggest company. Having said that, there is no way that I would have wanted to work for Steve Jobs at any time in his life.