Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Danny Boyle
Written by:
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Length:   122 minutes
Released:   102315
R for language
“Steve Jobs is a product that even Steve Jobs would sign off on."

The last time Aaron Sorkin, America’s patron scribe of motor-mouthed smartasses, tackled a flawed techno-visionary on the big screen, he gave us his version of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and, together with director David Fincher, one of the defining films of the 21st century. He’s back again, this time paired with Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire filmmaker Danny Boyle, to dramatize a strikingly similar anti-social networker; another big-brained, giant ego, control freak computer wiz kid whose inventions have, for better or worse, helped redefine modern human interaction.

Steve Jobs, who died in October 2011, was arguably a more iconic public figure than Zuckerberg. As Apple CEO, his various iProducts – Mac, Pod, Phone, etc – were game-changing devices and his role in Pixar’s CG animation success story was key. Yet, somewhat perversely, Sorkin opts to end his movie before the first iMac is announced to the world, and avoids any Pixar involvement entirely. From the very start, the film’s approach is entirely in keeping with Jobs’s own sometime corporate mantra and ethos: think different.

So, instead of a standard biopic, we get three distinct time frames (with occasional flashbacks interspersed), each a heightened, concertinaed version of three product launches: 1984’s Macintosh personal computing revolution, 1988’s NeXT costly gamble and 1998’s iMac redemption. And keeping the action backstage, where Jobs’s personal and professional life threatens to shut down, is a bold gambit, especially for a man who micro-managed the public presentation of himself and his work.

As Jobs, Michael Fassbender is onscreen for virtually every second of the film. Famously not first choice for the role (courtesy of the Sony email hacks, which had Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio as favoured picks), Fassbender, unlike previous Jobs incarnation Ashton Kutcher, looks nothing like his real-life counterpart. But in every other aspect, this is a Kutcher upgrade. Fassbender rides the distinctive rhythms and textures of Sorkin’s trademark spring-loaded verbal sparring like a pro, offering us a vanity-free look at a man of relentless focus, drive and disregard for any entity, breathing or binary coded, outside his own creation. Yet he also reveals the wounded fragility that underpins the (micro)chip on his shoulder and need for a computer, even a lifestyle, that’s a “closed system.” Most impressively of all, it’s an awards-bait performance that’s largely free from grandstanding, some achievement when delivering one-liners as floridly catchy as Sorkin’s.

This is partly because Sorkin and Boyle keep Jobs in check, and Fassbender on his toes, with a crack ensemble cast. Every scene is effectively a standoff between Jobs and an aggrieved colleague or family member, be it Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), desperately appealing for recognition for his team; browbeaten programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), often at the sharp end of Jobs’s perfectionist demands; or impoverished ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and her young daugher Lisa. When faced with a claim that Lisa is his daughter, Jobs not only denies paternity but sets out to disprove it (and defame his ex) with an algorithm that suggests 28% of American men could be responsible. Father of personal computing? Sure. Dad of the Year? Not so much.

Still, it’s this gradual acceptance of, and softening towards, Lisa that marks its protagonist’s character arc here (there’s no reference to his later lasting marriage and three children) and this overly emphatic, cathartic ending is the film’s only real glitch. Structurally, Steve Jobs adopts a blatantly theatrical (and this text is a stage play, and probably a musical, waiting to happen) angle of “emotional truths” rather than actuality. You want documentary realism? Byte me, say the filmmakers. Paradoxically, it’s a much fairer film than The Social Network, whose blithe erasure of Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing relationship with his girlfriend (and now wife) allowed Sorkin to push his cute, but inherently made-up, theory about a jilted creep substituting virtual connection for human intimacy.

And yet Steve Jobs absolutely works as a film in its own right. Boyle, so often the energizer bunny of his snap-crackle-pop-culture movies, keeps the action flowing, walking and talking but without undue gimmicks. Each time period is discreetly shot in a different format – grainy 16mm 4:3 ratio for the 1984 beginnings, 35mm film for the showy ‘80s and clean HD for the ‘90s i-digital revolution. The framing and design also echo Jobs’s gradual personal awakening, from ‘84’s dingy community college interiors, to the airy, arched spaces of 1998’s San Francisco Davies Symphony Hall (and rooftop exteriors!). Daniel Pemberton’s score blends electronica with classical (neatly chiming with Jobs’s defense of his undefined role that “musicians play their instruments; I play the orchestra.”). As with Apple’s best inventions, all the various elements work in seamless synchronicity to create something special. You get the feeling that, despite its often-unflattering overview, Steve Jobs is a product that even Steve Jobs would sign off on.

Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, Steve Jobs is a dazzling artistic interpretation of one of the modern techno-giants and a terrific piece of filmmaking, led by a never-better Michael Fassbender in the lead role. It’s The Social Network 2.0 and one of the year’s best films.

STEVE JOBS © 2015 Universal Pictures
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2015 Alternate Reality, Inc.



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