Mark Reviews Movies

Steve Jobs


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook, Ripley Sobo, Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss

MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 10/9/15 (limited); 10/16/15 (wider); 10/23/15 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 15, 2015

That this film is about Steve Jobs is the least interesting thing about Steve Jobs. What the film tries to do in communicating the most important aspects of the late Apple CEO's life and how it goes about that communication are far more fascinating. Those who possess more awareness of the biographical details of the man may find a lot here that other, less informed parties might miss, amidst the flood of dialogue and monologues. Still, this film could have been about some random, fictional man and still have retained the bulk of its impact. That means it's doing a lot of things right—and maybe a few things wrong.

Jobs, of course, was a man known primarily by way of his career and crafted public image, so in a little inside joke of sorts, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (adapting the book by Walter Isaacson) gives us a literal behind-the-scenes story. From what we do know of Jobs (It's also a significant observation about and criticism of him within the film), he was a man who valued design and structure over all else (Here, we see him obsessing over the measurements of an all-in-one computer, which is supposed to be a perfect cube, and being quite irritated that at least two of the sides are off by a matter of millimeters). Sorkin reflects that aspect of the man by giving us a straightforward three-act structure, with the preparation for the launch events of three separate computers at three different points in Jobs' life serving as those acts (The most notable visual contribution from director Danny Boyle is the differing look of each act).

The film, then, is a boldly theatrical gesture (One might think the screenplay either started as a play or easily could be adapted into one). That only makes its narrative decisions all the more refreshing.

This isn't a biography. In fact, some of the film's weakest moments arrive when it attempts to cram such information into this story (a few flashbacks, montages of newspaper clippings and television news items, and some on-the-nose dialogue, with Sorkin being jokingly self-critical in a cutesy way about the last one). The film's scope—three specific points in time, set within two relatively fixed locations—is too limited for the broad strokes of biography.

There, though, is the film's central strength. It isn't broad, except, perhaps, in its psychological scrutiny of Jobs (This leads to the film's most obvious moments of biographical cramming, which Sorkin attempts to downplay by the main character's confounded response to the apparent non sequiturs). The film's specificity is in its repeated scenario, in which Jobs, convincingly played by Michael Fassbender, finds himself preparing for the biggest moment of his life to date while having to contend with repeated onslaughts of his personal failings (Yes, Sorkin also makes a joke about that contrivance).

He's distracted by the forthcoming presentations, of course, but the film gives us the impression of a man who would be distracted without the pressure. For a man who wants to change the world, everything unrelated to his work is a distraction, and anyone who even hints that he might have something a little wrong is an obstacle. This interpretation of Jobs paints him as the loneliest, most insecure man in a room that happens to be filled with people who happen to believe he's a genius. This Jobs wants everyone in the world to know not only that he's a genius but also that he's a certain kind of genius.

He'd rather everyone forget that the company's co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) actually did the building and coding of the first computer they made in a garage. It bugs him that John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, a standout), the man whom Jobs courted to become the company's CEO, seems to have a better business sense than him.

It kills him that Time chose the computer over him for the title of "Man of the Year" and that, to add insult to injury, the computer on the cover isn't even from his company. Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), the head of Jobs' marketing team and his semi-confidant, tries to keep Jobs' fragile ego in check while also attempting to make him face his personal responsibilities. The primary of those is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), who is the mother of Jobs' daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine at the character's various ages). Jobs denies that he's the girl's father, despite a paternity test all but confirming it.

All of this is in 1984, as Jobs readies himself for the announcement of the Macintosh personal computer. A lot of that bleeds into 1988 (Considering how closely aligned the Jobs of 1984 and of 1988 are, this might as well be a two-act show), after Jobs left or, depending on whom one asks, was fired from the company and ventured on his own. He's a man of grand vision who either obsesses over little details (the Macintosh's "voice") or dismisses vital ones (His "perfect cube" doesn't have an operating system) depending on that bigger picture.

In the third act in 1998, Jobs has transformed into the jeans-and-turtleneck-wearing guy whom everyone loves. He seems to have become more laid back, but maybe it's just an act.

What does all of this tell us? Honestly, it doesn't illuminate too much about the man or his career that a person with even a passing interest in Jobs wouldn't already know. It might seem odd to praise and ultimately recommend a film about a real-life subject that doesn't offer much enlightenment on the subject, but Steve Jobs is effective as an exercise in classical form, highlighted by Sorkin's biting brand of hyper-aware dialogue. The film is an efficient dramatic machine.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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