"Think different", exhorted the Apple advertising in the late 1990s, following the mantra laid out by the company's founder Steve Jobs, driven to reinvent personal computing by focussing on the average citizen. Had director Joshua Michael Stern and screenwriter Matt Whiteley followed the late Mr. Jobs' direction to "think different", their biopic could have stood out. Instead, they turned out an anonymous, bland run-through of the visionary perfectionist's formative years from his college days in the 1970s to his mid-1980s ouster from Apple, then leaping ahead to the his late-1990s return and rescue of the company.

     In a way, it's as if the filmmakers could only make sense of Mr. Jobs' idiosyncratic life and work by boxing him in the tried and true biopic format, as laid out by classic Hollywood: a visionary hero who will stop at nothing to realise his vision, even if he is not understood at first by the world around him. On the whole, the narrative arc of Mr. Jobs' career at Apple may be like that - and, since the film doesn't exactly whitewash his temper and his many callous, even autistic behaviours, there's also a slight hint of a hyper-competitive personality yearning to prove the others wrong - but it pretty much reduces the film to just another classic biopic. It focusses on the central events that molded Mr. Jobs' career, but ejects pretty much all of his personal life, and reduces most of his co-workers to mere walk-in roles or cameos, wasting perfectly fine actors (J. K. Simmons, Dermot Mulroney, Matthew Modine) in broad-strokes sketches that never truly colour in the events (blink and you'll miss James Woods or Lesley Ann Warren, for instance).

     The problem with Jobs isn't necessarily one of execution: it's an efficiently mounted, if routine, production, zipping along effectively if blandly; Ashton Kutcher manages to capture Mr. Jobs' drive, though not entirely his darkness, and has a strong rapport with the excellent Josh Gad, playing Mr. Jobs' co-founder Steve Wozniak. It's mostly one of conception: a run-of-the-mill, standardised biopic such as this, trying to fit things into pre-allotted boxes, will never be able to convey a vision as driven and borderline radical for its time as was Mr. Jobs'. And it isn't. So we get yet another tale of a visionary time caught up with.

Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J. K. Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, Ahna O'Reilly, Victor Rasuk, John Getz, Kevin Dunn, James Woods, Matthew Modine
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Screenplay: Matt Whiteley
Cinematography: Russell Carpenter  (colour, widescreen)
Music: John Debney
Designer: Fredrick Waff
Costumes: Lisa Jensen
Editor: Robert Komatsu
Producers: Mr. Stern, Mark Hulme (Five Star Feature Films in association with IF Entertainment, Venture Forth and Silver Reel)
USA/Switzerland, 2013, 129 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 5, Lisbon, August 20th 2013


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