Oct 19, 2015
The opening scene is riveting. The actors are mesmerizing. The dialogue is snappy, and the only let down is a treacly story about a daughter and a sappy ending. Otherwise, this is a thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into the story of a brilliant asshole. As played with focused ferocity by Michael Fassbender, who has long deserved a role of this scope, no matter how big a prick his Steve Jobs is, there is something, if not likable, rather sexy about his egotism. Perhaps it's his sharp mind, his unwavering certitude and the zippy lines he's given to utter by Aaron Sorkin.
Danny Boyle directs with verve and fluidity what is basically a series of dramatic duels: Jobs vs. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, great), Jobs vs. John Scully (Jeff Daniels, great), Jobs in a wonderful rapport with his right hand woman Joanna Hoffman (the excellent Kate Winslet, showing how to manage someone unmanageable). Fassbender achieves something rare: the portrait of a man who pisses icewater but has a fire within. It is a beautifully calibrated, magnetic performance that truly sustains the movie. He also does a mean Cupertino accent. Now, is this anything like the real Steve Jobs? Probably not.
Everything happens backstage before the launches of three emblematic Jobs' products: the Macintosh, Next (yep, no one remembers that one), and the iMac. This has the effect of making you feel a loving sense of nostalgia for the first time you saw one of those machines or their brilliant ad campaigns. It also makes one feel that this happened in prehistoric times. It's all very artificial and deliberately theatrical -- it is, after all, set on the stages where Jobs introduced his products. We see the conflicts behind the scenes but we never see Jobs' flawless performances.
Boyle's kinetic style makes it work. I wish there was less music competing with Sorkin's plentiful dialog. Sorkin writes like Hollywood screenwriters of yore: snappy, clever, fast lines that feel like a breeze compared to the ponderous and inane dialog that comes from most American movies these days. But you have to be very alert, or you'll miss chunks of it.
In The Social Network, Sorkin had more manageable material. He was not dealing with an icon, but with an antisocial college brat who could barely connect with his own feet, yet created a social network. The problem with the figure of Steve Jobs is that the scope both of the man and his work is much broader, hence Sorkin's focus is scattered. There is no easy metaphor here. The arc is that of a fearsome godlike creature who becomes human, and it doesn't quite work. The movie tries to cover emotional territory that feels a bit forced, stepping lightly and not very convincingly on personal issues like the fact that Jobs was adopted, and that he rejected his own daughter. This comes through like Psychology 101. We don't really get a sense of the hard work Jobs put in. We get a sense of the hard work he made others go through, but because we only see him bossing people around as he prepares to face the expectant crowds, we never get a sense of the day to day business of running Apple. The movie could also have used more of the sense of delight in the user experience that was Jobs' holy grail. We hear a lot about it, but we don't really see it. What really drove Jobs remains a mystery. Still, Sorkin's compression device is understandable in that it distills his complicated life (based on Walter Isaacson's biography) into two hours. Although artificial and limited to zipping through the most important milestones of Jobs' leadership at Apple, the movie is still buoyant.