Steve Jobs (review)

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“Clean and simple” is what makes Jobs’ products so appealing. He might’ve been an arrogant control freak like the movie suggests, but what he lacked in social skills he made up for in vision, ingenuity, and showmanship. These qualities he coupled with his user-friendly designs achieved success after years of stumbles which in turn attracted people to his products in droves. It’s fitting that the movie shares his minimalist sensibilities.

You can thank an extremely talented team of filmmakers for this including Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender and, perhaps the most crucial piece, Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin. The first attempt at a Steve Jobs biopic, Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs, never managed to make an impact, both critically or commercially. This team has created a movie as intelligent and dynamic as the man himself without skimping on the human drama.

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Their product is a combination of Halt and Catch Fire and Birdman, blending the high-tech entrepreneurial spirit of the former with the kinetic staging and dialogue of the latter while maintaining the beautiful chaos of both. The movie is split into three sections, all of which take place right before the launch of a new product. These acts provide a backstage (literally and figuratively) view of the conflicts between Jobs and his family and colleagues, an atmosphere full of anxiety over future products, and regret over past failures and denial of current emotions. Sorkin and Boyle have Fassbender and his excellent co-stars to thank for tackling all of the above with ease.

Their story spans two decades in three acts that take place in 1984, 1988 and 1998. The first focuses on a young Jobs before the release of the Macintosh, a computer that could never live up to the success of the Apple II. The second act sees Jobs, now ousted by Apple, preparing to unveil his new company’s NeXT computer, one that also underwhelmed consumers. The final section ends in a professional victory for Jobs who’s now back with Apple and introduces the commercially successful iMac to the world.

A subtle, yet very appropriate aesthetic choice involves the varying filming techniques. The first was shot on low-res 16mm film, giving it that grainy, retro feel. The second part is presented on widescreen 35mm and the final section utilizes high-def digital for a more modern feel. It’s a wise decision by the filmmakers to narrow their scope rather than taking the entire life of one of the most influential men of our time and condensing it to two hours.

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Along with all the hiccups that come with his tech releases, Jobs must face his former lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) who’s at her wits end, living on welfare while Jobs rakes in the cash and has a daughter (Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine) who Jobs denies having fathered. Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak also challenges Jobs’ conscience as a decent man who just wants a little respect from his egomaniacal friend, specifically recognition for his team in the success of the Apple II. With little effort, we sympathize with Rogen in a role that demands much more than just playing himself. Also, we get some of the film’s most passionate and rousing encounters between Jobs and Apple CEO Mike Sculley (the excellent Jeff Daniels) who’s no stranger to a Sorkin script and nails Sculley’s conflicted emotions about terminating Jobs.

You can’t blame him since Jobs is a bit of a jerk. Much like Sorkin’s Mark Zuckerberg, Jobs is so focused on his vision for his products that his vision for the feelings off human beings is obscured. Yet, Fassbender still makes us empathize with him as a tiny bit of his tortured, self-doubting persona shows itself from time to time. He’s one that can’t come to terms with his adoption and the feeling of losing control. You can’t help but admire his stubborn dedication to his work since, as we all know, it paid off at the end.

Jobs’ loyal colleague Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) also helps to bring out his more admirable qualities. Winslet deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination, almost unrecognizable as the no-nonsense assistant to Jobs who seems like she’s trying to maintain her sanity around him on an ongoing basis. She speaks firmly with a fading Eastern European accent that Winslet nails.

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The master behind the scenes, however, is Sorkin whose career hit a minor rough patch with The Newsroom. It was a fine show, but, when left unchecked, the worst qualities of his writing tend to surface. However, when Sorkin pens a contained, rigorously crafted feature film, he excels. He loves writing about intelligent people speaking intelligently about intelligent matters. That’s front and center here along with characters that are complicated and likable. Also, his standard, yet milder, ping-pong dialogue flows quickly and gracefully and only verges on over-sentimentality at the very end.

Although it’s not the perfect marriage of Sorkin’s writing and David Fincher’s directing that we saw in The Social Network, Sorkin and Boyle still complement each other nicely. Boyle adds just enough of his own aesthetics without undermining the wonderful script. Boyle could’ve omitted a few of the abundant dark, cavernous rooms, but this is a tightly written, well-acted and carefully directed glimpse into the life and mind of the man who created the device on which you’re probably reading this.

Rating: 4/5 atoms
NR 4 Atoms - B

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Glen Ilnicki
Glen Ilnicki 271 posts

Glen has been reading comic books and playing video games his whole life. His unhealthy passion, however, is for film. He currently resides in Ottawa, Canada.