Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: Steve Jobs

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
For some moviegoers, it's a deal breaker if a film follows a character who is unlikable or with whom they cannot relate. Admittedly, I've never understood this complaint - take "There Will Be Blood" for example: unconscionably sinister character, remarkable movie. The reason that I bring this up is that those who have a difficult time spending two hours with a character with whom it is difficult to sympathize will struggle through Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs."

As portrayed by Michael Fassbender (very well, I might add), Jobs is a megalomaniac who will not recognize as his own the girl who is obviously his offspring, fails to give his own co-workers credit, alienates most of his "friends" and never hesitates to remind all those around him how much of a genius he is. And he is. And Boyle's film does a pretty fantastic job of giving us a glimpse of the man, but without going the whole biopic route.

So, no, this is not the comprehensive Steve Jobs movie that the Ashton Kutcher picture tried - and didn't exactly succeed - to be. Rather, the movie is set around three scenes - the 1984 launch of the Macintosh, 1988 debut of the NeXT and 1998 iMac unveiling. And each sequence finds Jobs butting heads with those whom he respects and works with - Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), marketing director Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple's CEO and father figure for Jobs, who was an orphan.

The other plot line that weaves its way through Jobs's product launches is one involving his refusal to acknowledge his daughter, Lisa, and the girl's mother (Katherine Waterston) and, eventually, his decision to form a relationship with the girl. It's this plot line that manages to humanize Jobs, who comes across as arrogant and, mostly, cold with his fellow employees.

Since the film's script was written by Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network" and "The West Wing"), the dialogue is snappy and clever as you'd expect and the writer deftly blends scenes in which the characters mix tech jargon with conversations involving personal matters.

There's an interesting early scene in which Jobs is lambasting his co-workers after they are unable to make the Macintosh say "hello" during its debut launch. He wants the computer to lose the stigma of being a scary object as portrayed in films, such as "2001: A Space Odyssey," and believes that if it can greet the audience, it could put people at ease.

And that's one of the keys to Jobs, at least in this film. He's off-putting and seemingly a cold fish to those around him, who believe he's more interested in gadgetry than human interaction, but Jobs believes he's changing the world (and, he obviously did) and that relationships with computers are, in his mind, just as complex and significant as those with other human beings.

There are some great scenes of characters facing off in the film, most of which involve Winslet's voice of reason attempting to compel Jobs to act like a father toward his child, but there's another terrific one late in the film during which Wozniak has made his latest failed attempt to convince Jobs to recognize workers on the dated Apple II during the iMac launch. Jobs, of course, won't do it on the grounds that it's his work and ideas that have helped Apple rise back to the top. Wozniak, in one of the film's best lines, tells him, "You can be decent and gifted at the same time. It's not binary."

Boyle's films are typically characterized by zippy editing, musical cues and flashy camera work. "Steve Jobs" is primarily set within small rooms in conference centers and the action is mostly centered around dialogue. And yet, Sorkin's writing and Boyle's direction mesh very well. This is a fast paced film that is primarily driven by people talking. The casting is also impeccable - Fassbender nails the role, despite not particularly looking like Jobs, while Rogen and Daniels bring the necessary pathos to their characters. Winslet, always great, takes a character that could have been a throwaway role and breathes life into it.

This is Sorkin's second script about a genius who built an empire revolving around the world of computers. David Fincher's "The Social Network" is a little better than "Steve Jobs" due to its complexity and ability to be about more than just the story of Mark Zuckerberg. But Boyle's film is also a fascinating glimpse at a figure who was brilliant - revolutionary even - in his line of work, but lacked the capacity to empathize with others. One of the most riveting elements of this film is how it doesn't require us to empathize with him either, but still allows us to see his humanity - even if in small doses.

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