Review: Jobs the movie applies its own reality distortion field

In true Hollywood fashion, the acting is good but the script leaves too many things out

Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs
Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

Less than two years since Steve Jobs' passing, his life story hits the silver screen today. The limited release of Jobs, the feature-length film directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher, was delayed from its original April release after it received poor reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. The official release will please Apple fans with its casting and acting as much as it will frustrate them with its script and dramatic reinterpretation of events.

Jobs is more a memoir than a biography, telling not the life story of Steve Jobs or the corporate history of Apple, but the relationship between the two. The film opens in 2001 with Jobs introducing the iPod at an internal company meeting, and that's the furthest in Apple's chronology the movie goes -- perhaps to serve as an entry point to theatergoers whose familiarity with Apple begins and ends with their iOS devices.

The film then rewinds to 1974, with Jobs a Reed College dropout, embarking on a spiritual quest to India with friend Daniel Kottke, then returning home to found Apple with Steve Wozniak (better known as Woz). The movie next skips from 1977 to 1980 to follow the development of the Lisa and Macintosh computers -- leading to Jobs' ouster as CEO in 1985 -- then closes briefly with Jobs' return to Apple in 1996. At no point does it mention his acquisition of Pixar, his marriage to Laurene Powell, the creation of the iPhone or iPad, or his battle with cancer. Nor do we see how the years away from Apple mellowed Jobs, or why Apple welcomed him back more than a decade later.

In the years the film does key in on, we see a lot of Jobs' infamous ruthlessness: Stiffing Woz on a paycheck from Atari; denying stock options to early Apple employee Kottke; and rejecting his paternity of Chrisann Brennan's daughter -- that being perhaps the most obvious manifestation of Jobs' renowned Reality Distortion Field (in this case, turned inward). In that scene, my movie-going companion, unfamiliar with Jobs' tale, turned to me and asked, "Really?" She found it hard to believe the story was true and not something fabricated for Jobs.

To make Jobs likable or sympathetic in the face of such flaws, other facts are distorted or obscured. In one scene, Jobs directs his fury over the phone at Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, whom Jobs believes has stolen the Mac operating system's UI for Windows. But the film omits Jobs' visit to Xerox's PARC R&D division, where he absconded with the concepts for a mouse-driven GUI in the first place. Instead, the movie suggests Jobs was the genius who invented these ideas, overlooking the irony of Gates stealing from someone who famously proclaimed, "Great artists steal."

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