‘Steve Jobs’ is an Almost Revolutionary Biopic About a Tech Icon

GameStop, Inc.

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Following his death in 2011, there was a public rush to canonize Steve Jobs as something more than just the head of a company that made toys for adults and something of a technological messiah. Of course, that was just the emotional response of many people who felt a connection with the co-founder of Apple due to the personal use devices they held in their hands. What was lost in the rush to mythologize Jobs was the fact that he was a human, and thus quite flawed. The third film about Jobs since his death, the Danny Boyle-directed and Aaron Sorkin-scripted Steve Jobs, approaches its subject matter with his flaws at the forefront. And though Steve Jobs is a well-written, well-acted, and well-directed film, it can’t shake the notion that there’s something missing at the core of the film.

Boyle and Sorkin have staged the film to take place in three crucial moments in the life of Steve Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender. The first segment in prior to the unveiling of the Macintosh computer in Cupertino, California in 1984. The second segment is in San Francisco as Jobs, recently exiled from Apple, is starting his next venture NeXT. Finally, the last segment has Jobs back at the helm of Apple and getting ready to unveil his latest creation, the iMac. Each of these segments feature arguments of patented Sorkin dialogue as Jobs faces challenges personal and professional with a few flashbacks tossed into the mix. Danny Boyle and cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler shoot each of the three parts on a different film stock, with the first being in a grainy 16mm, before shifting to 35mm and concluding in digital. It’s a nice visual touch that allows each of these segments, which are all really similar in setting and content, to feel different.

What prevents Steve Jobs from being something more is that inescapable fact that all three parts are so similar. If Jobs isn’t denying paternity of his daughter Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine at different stages in her life) while arguing with her mother Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson), Jobs is berating his programmers, like Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and technicians demanding perfection on every possible level. Job also exchanges arguments with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Loyally by his side is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). The marketing team employee is seemingly the only one who could corral the infamously controlling Jobs. In practically each and every scene in the film, Jobs is presented as a visionary severely lacking in people skills, saying the wrong things at the wrong times with the goal of achieving a perfection in his work that he is incapable of grasping as a human. In adapting Walter Isaacson’s book, Boyle and Sorkin push forth the notion that Jobs was a man driven by a feeling of inadequacy rooted in his adoption as an infant.

Every actor within Steve Jobs does excellent work in reading Sorkin’s impassioned monologues and acerbic witty remarks. Fassbender is excellent as the restless and maniacal micro-manager Jobs. Cold and calm in parts and at a moment’s notice a ball of rage spewing insults and threats to get things the way he craves. The Irish-German actor plays a man driven by an obsession that others couldn’t see and many couldn’t tolerate. As co-founder Steve Wozniak, Rogen gives a solid, comedy-free performance. Wozniak’s character is there to counteract upon Jobs’ obsessions for complete control from a computing standpoint. Jobs insists that his products be incompatible with other systems with Wozniak pushing for a system open to more modifications and alterations. Both Kate Winslet and Michael Stuhlbarg are as good as usual, with Stuhlbarg further cementing his role as one of the best character actors working today.

Despite everything I liked about Steve Jobs, I just couldn’t escape the fact that all three segments are remarkably similar. It amounts to three short films featuring conversations and arguments in corridors and hallways, though it doesn’t hurt that these arguments are scripted by Aaron Sorkin, who previously wrote the tech-themed biopic The Social Network. But Steve Jobs is really a movie about a controlling asshole who at the end is just a bit more of a controlling asshole and moderately better father. While that may be the true story, it doesn’t always make for compelling cinema. Thankfully, Steve Jobs avoids trying to endlessly praise its subject, and it does avoid practically every biopic cliché, the ending excluded. Yet for all its merits, it’s still missing something. Steve Jobs is a lot like that first failed Macintosh – almost revolutionary.

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