Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgAaron Sorkin is an amazing writer. The Oscar winning scribe behind such beloved titles as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball has an ear for dialogue and Steve Jobs, the movie, is no different. The author fashions the story as a play in three acts. Just don’t call it a biopic. The screenwriter has openly acknowledged it as “impressionistic”. The production is more of an imagined portrait as directed by Danny Boyle.  We follow the titular icon backstage at the presentation of three key unveilings in his life: the introduction of the Macintosh computer in 1984, the debut of the NeXT computer in 1988 and the launch of the iMac in 1998.

Structurally it’s quite innovative. The narrow scope gives the drama a core with which to delve into the personality of the man. But at the same time that fixation is rather limiting too. It’s an isolated misrepresentation. The screenplay is adapted both from Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs as well as interviews conducted by Sorkin. The dialogue isn’t based on actual conversations but more of an imagining of what might have been said, given what ultimately occurred. For example, Steve Jobs has a histrionic shouting match with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) right before the iMac introduction. This happens publicly in an auditorium with many apple employees looking on. Given Steve Jobs’ carefully orchestrated persona, this publicly embarrassing scene doesn’t even have the ring of truth. To make matters worse, we’ve already heard this same complaint from Steve Wozniak before in each of the previous two acts.

Which brings me to my next point. The feature is repetitive. Their open argument concerns Wozniak’s desire to have Jobs publicly acknowledge the Apple II team and their contribution. Every time Wozniak shows up, it’s to whine about the same agenda. In the first section, it’s engrossing. In the second, it’s mild déjà vu. By the third it’s tedious begging. He’s like a broken record.  Ditto the interactions between Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), former girlfriend and mother of his child, Lisa. Chrisann drops in at inopportune times to plead with him. She rightfully wants him to support his biological child. “Your Apple stock is worth $441 million dollars, and your daughter and her mother are on welfare.” It’s kind of unbelievable how many people freely tell this powerful guy off. Yeah, he’s not a nice guy and the script doesn’t pull many punches. This is Steve Jobs the jerk. A brilliant manipulator of people, but still a jerk.

The first act is a fascinating, albeit cold, conversation between people. These include Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman. In real life she was a marketing executive but functions more as a personal assistant here. There’s Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of many engineers on the original Apple Macintosh development team. He is given center stage when the computer won’t say “hello” in a robotic voice. Steve Jobs bullies Andy Hertzfeld into submission. The scene is amusing but it feels apocryphal. There’s also Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), a mentor of sorts who dispenses wisdom like a father figure. The verbal sparring between the two is a high point.

That Macintosh section is captivating. The NexT computer portion, decent. But the iMac launch is where the narrative becomes exhausting. The primary gist throughout Steve Jobs isn’t business. It’s his relationship with Lisa, the daughter he refuses to accept. She pops up repeatedly, played at different stages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss. Their bond forms the climax.  The chronicle has so little to do with the successes of his profession. In fact his most celebrated gadgets (iPhone, iPod, and iPad) aren’t even mentioned), Neither is the Pixar company. Steve Jobs became a multi-billionaire as its majority shareholder, after the Walt Disney company bought it in 2006. Sorry this movie ends in 1998.

Steve Jobs benefits from a crackerjack screenplay. The lightning fast dialogue, particularly in the first two acts is quite mesmerizing. It’s a veritable inundation of words, a theatrical tour de force for its star Michael Fassbender. Despite his lack of resemblance, he gets the driven spirit of the character. Who cares that little, if any of these conversations really happened, right? The attitude behind what he did is rooted in fact. I won’t fault the script for inaccuracy, but I will fault it for entertainment. The center of attention is a man who must make amends with his daughter. For a man so admired for the things he created, it is a regrettable misdirection of focus.  The climatic discussion invented for the dramatization. For most of the runtime, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue zings. Characters exchange words back and force with the crack of a whip. It’s a masterfully composed conceptual play. I easily admire it for that. It’s the artificiality and narrow focus that is difficult to love.


13 Responses to “Steve Jobs”

  1. I can’t say that I’m a fan of all Apple products or their cornering of the market, so would you recommend this film to me? Or is it a little too heavy in playing into and building on the Steve Jobs myth?


  2. This looks great. Your explanation of the structure of the movie is interesting. I could see that helping it and hurting it for sure.


  3. I will be going to see this primarily to see how Fassbender interprets the man. I think on that basis I shouldn’t be disappointed, but you’ve confirmed exactly what I was fearing — does the structure lend repetition to the story or can Boyle make the three major unveils each come across new and refreshing? Sounds like he might have some success but there’s repetition to be found. Will keep that in mind before and after watching. 🙂


  4. Great review Mark. I really enjoyed this one and I think the main reason for that was because Fassbender gave an incredible performance.


  5. I’ll give this 3 stars. Movie was ok, but the performances were great. Wish the movie had something exciting. Lots of whining and arguing going on. I like the Steve Jobs documentary better.


  6. I’ve heard that the structure of the film is innovative, but that the arguments/conversations are repetitive, and honestly it’s one of the main reasons I haven’t been in a rush to see Steve Jobs, even though I generally like Sorkin’s ear for dialogue.


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