*** out of ****
Steve Jobs is a biopic that makes the tasteful decision to be honest about the fact that it is a dramatization. It revolves entirely around conversations we know could have taken place, but didn’t. The conversations are artfully utilized to illustrate history, as opposed to reenactments of that history.
Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network) screenplay is crafted as a three-act film that feels completely compatible with theater. It is only appropriate that each act takes place in the literal backstage area of a major product release that will steer Jobs’ legacy in a new direction. Like last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman, the high-pressure setting of a large show venue with backrooms and corridors is a great cinematic setting for heated discussions and symbolic of a showman preparing to meet his audience.
The setting gives the dialogue free-reign to show Jobs at his most controlling, lacking emotional consideration for the people who surround him. These people challenge him with advice, which he brushes off as though they all represent doubts working against his ego.
Jobs is played by the great Michael Fassbender, who bears no resemblance to the man, but, like all talented actors, finds the character written on the page and works with it.
There are many archetypical players on this stage, but some get more of Steve’s ear than others. Seth Rogen plays Steve Wosniak (Co-Founder), the alienated friend; Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman (Marketing Director), the influential servant; Jeff Daniels is John Sculley (CEO), the father figure; while Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine take turns playing Lisa Brennan (Daughter), the child in need of a parent.
Sorkin’s dialogue, which takes the highlights of Jobs’ life and career from Walter Isaacson’s book, is inventive and informative. The actors all do wonders with the material too. His collaboration with director Danny Boyle, however, is interesting but problematic. Boyle, a kinetic visionary whom I often admire, has a tendency to impose emotion over scenes that don’t require such heavy-handed manipulations. I imagine Sorkin would have preferred the dialogue to speak for itself. Though he’s written a ludicrous sentimental exchange near the end, which attempts to merge Jobs’ strive for innovation with his repressed fatherly love. It’s a sappy construct that I find hard to believe and, in the scheme of things, feels irrelevant.
I do like Boyle’s continuing fondness for changing mediums within a film and he does it here with the first part being shot on 16mm film, the second on 35mm film and the third with current digital cinematography. In between each act is a montage of TV clips that provide exposition for what will come next.
The movie wisely ends in 1998 with the launch of the iMac, dodging many more obvious products Jobs would unveil before his untimely death. The iMac was a new beginning for Jobs, Apple, and represented a massive shift in the world of personal computing toward Apple’s brilliantly designed, yet proprietary packaging.
Somehow, I still feel as though it’s too soon to make a film about such a big figure. Regardless, Steve Jobs does a good job.