STEVE JOBS (2015) review
written by: Aaron Sorkin
produced by: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon & Scott Rudin
directed by: Danny Boyle
rating: R (for language)
runtime: 122 min.
U.S. release date: October 16, 2015 (limited)
The star of “Steve Jobs” is screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. If you’re familiar with his work that comes as no surprise. The same can be said for his screenplay to David Fincher’s “The Social Network” for the first time. His writing electrified that movie with quick pacing and exhilarating back-and-forth between characters, which is what we have throughout Danny Boyle’s new film. Like Fincher’s film about Mark Zuckerberg, “Steve Jobs” moves at a fast clip – it has to in order to keep up with Sorkin’s words and keep viewers interested in a lead character they probably know everything about.
That’s what “The Social Network” had going for it – we really didn’t know much about Zuckerberg, except that he created Facebook – and honestly, we didn’t think there was a story worth knowing, but Sorkin and Fincher showed us there was. So, there was a curiosity attached to “The Social Network”, unlike the subject of “Steve Jobs”. How come? Well, blame Steve Jobs. When he was alive, he was the face and mouthpiece of whatever product he had a hand in creating. He was as recognizable as the Apple icon and made launch events a thing. Details on the innovator could be found everywhere and even moreso after his death. There’s around ten other films out there on Jobs, most of them documentaries (a solid one from Alex Gibney came out within the last couple months) and a couple other biopics of the former Apple CEO.
Sorkin’s breathless screenplay formats the movie differently than most biopics we’ve seen and that’s a refreshing relief. It focuses on three major events in Jobs career, playing with chronology at times and inserting choice memories here and there, in an infectious manner. It obviously covers a lot of ground at a steady clip, but after a while “Steve Jobs” feels kind of repetitive.
We first meet Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in 1984, when he’s about to take the stage to launch the Mac – a personal computer that simplifies life by reducing what a computer can actually do. It’s a “less is more” approach that he believes will emphasize the personal in personal computer. He is impatient, demanding and a high-maintenance case for, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, whose Polish accent is about 40%) his personal assistant/marketing manager to deal with.
She’s also dealing with all the backstage drama (rather, all the specifities Jobs has required) – like making sure software engineer, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) solves technical errors, seeing that Apple co-founder/coding architect Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is able to request that Jobs mentions the Apple II creators in his presentation and manage her boss’s ex-lover Chrisann Brennen (Katherine Waterston) and his five-year-old daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss), who’ve come to solve monetary and paternity issues. This whirlwind of activity all takes place minutes before Jobs presents his product.
Boyle films the 1984 scenes in a colorful-yet-grainy 16mm and then uses 35mm for 1988, where we find Jobs backstage at the San Francisco Orchestra Hall, getting ready to launch his own computer company, Next, after a separation from Apple. Former colleagues show up to support Jobs, like Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), a straight-up businessman (and former PepsiCo president) who may not understand Jobs’s marketing and design particulars, yet serves as something of a mentor, often asking Jobs his feelings about being adopted – again, all minutes before Jobs is about to go on stage. Neither of these business ventures take off, but what they do is make Jobs a pop culture figure, first in the tech industry and then worldwide.
Then comes 1998, filmed in digital by Boyle, which finds Jobs back with Apple and his fans finally coming around to wanting a simpler computer – one that is aesthetically cool and easy to surf the Internet on. Boom! The iMac becomes an overnight sensation, selling millions of units and well….you know the rest.
As you can tell, this three-act structure purposely shows us the chaos behind the presentation of what will eventually be a smooth and clean product. Sorkin culls material from Walter Issacson’s 2011 biography Steve Jobs as well as his own interviews he conducted. It’s a smart decision to provide the audience with important moments in Jobs life, instead of tracking every move in his career with exposition and monologues. We really don’t need to see “The Birth of Apple” and wind up getting enough key moments here from those early years in flashbacks. In a way, it’s similar to how we recall certain sequences in our own lives, but hopefully you’re not as abusive as Jobs is here, who has a definite obsession with control and domination that damages relationships in his life.
The eruptions and heated conversations Jobs has in hallways and dressing rooms are more theatrical than cinematic, but wholly entertaining. It’s fun to see a cold and polarizing character like Jobs get all wound up and frenzied, but it’s tough to watch the worker bees, family members and friends that are often left floating in his wake. At no point did I care if this is how Jobs truly was, because I was sucked into the vortex of Fassbender’s focused performance, Boyle’s steadied hand and Sorkin’s fierce script.
Boyle’s film is a much more energetic and raw experience than Ashton Kutcher’s “Jobs” from 2013, which settled on a melodramatic myth-making tone. The director takes off immediately, knowing his numbers – he has to cover three launches over a period of fifteen years while balancing seven characters. It’s easier to accept these characters when you view them as sketches (Jobs included) with little growth or any discernible arcs – after all, we only spend time with them for three days in basically the same setting. So, Rogen’s Woz hounding Jobs to acknowledge Apple II on each launch day, Chrisann repeatedly asking for money to help raise Lisa (the daughter Jobs denies is his) and Hoffman losing her mind trying to keep everything together and on schedule – it’s all understandably cyclical.
The only attempt at a character arc Sorkin offers can be seen in how Jobs eventually realizes what a prick of a father he’s been. A lightbulb doesn’t go off in his head, but we see how he first sees his daughter as a thorn in his side and comes around to a respect and appreciation for Lisa – even if it’s in the last 15 minutes of the movie. Although Sorkin is a bit heavy-handed in his emphasis of Jobs being a deadbeat dad who throws money at fatherhood, Fassbender is undeniably great in his scenes with Ross (as five year-old Lisa) and Perla Haney-Hardine (Lisa at nineteen), conveying a palpable awkwardness, frustration and guilt.
“Steve Jobs” may only offer moments of the main character, depicting him as a visionary who happens to be a callous monster and an egotistical bully, but that’s enough for me considering how much coverage there is of Jobs out there. I’d rather get a highlight reel like this than a movie that hits typical “true story” beats. Boyle’s style is as slick and smooth as an iPad (a product that’s never launched here) and his varying filming techniques for each year helps with time placement. But this movie just wouldn’t have been the same without Sorkin, who, while not breaking any new ground, once again reminds us how powerful words are.
The majority of moviegoers will seek this out for the talented trifecta of Sorkin, Boyle and Fassbender. All three bring their A-game and the end result is a film that showcases an intelligent script, sharp direction and excellent acting. I would expect no less. “Steve Jobs” winds up being a movie I liked with some catchy lines that stand out, but days after viewing I’m not thinking about it too much, even when I’m staring into my iPhone.