How do you create an engrossing entertainment about something as dry as personal computers and the launching of the Internet?
Maybe it’s too soon, but that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from the attempt. “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” a 1999 TV movie, cast Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. “The Social Network” (2010) won Oscars for its merciless portrait of Mark Zuckerberg and his creation of Facebook.
The most comprehensive of these films to date, “Jobs,” tells the warts-and-all story of a driven computer revolutionary, the late Steve Jobs, who more or less abandoned his family to fulfill his dreams.
He’s presented as a backstabber who must have his way at all costs, and Ashton Kutcher plays him exactly that way. Something starts to boil under his cheekbones whenever he’s about to fire a loyal partner or abandon his pregnant girlfriend.
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It’s a daring performance that instantly undermines Kutcher’s pretty-boy features and makes them seem ugly and brutally uncompromising. You begin to sense the anxiety of his victims whenever his id is on the loose.
At the same time, Kutcher convinces you that Jobs was some kind of social-political genius, capable of making things happen simply by wishing them into being. The occasional adoring close-up may seem a bit much, but it fits right into his seduction technique. (It also underscores the excellence of Russell Carpenter’s cinematography.)
While Kutcher is front-and-center most of the time, the supporting cast includes a career-peak performance by Dermot Mulroney as a businessman who senses Jobs’ potential early on. The shifts in their relationship are fascinating.
“Jobs” begins somewhat awkwardly, with a 2001 meeting between Jobs and his employees, but it drags only toward the end.
John Hartl: Johnhartl@yahoo.com