Less a bio-pic than an essay on the nature of genius, Steve Jobs
takes a refreshing approach to the subject of the Apple co-founder.
Adapted by Aaron Sorkin from an authorized biography by Walter Isaacson, the movie is divided rigidly into three acts, following Jobs and his co-workers as they prepare for key product launches. A minimum of context is provided, beyond the identification of dates and locations; the first segment kicks off in 1984, as the Macintosh is about to be introduced, the second episode moves forward to 1988, after Jobs has been ousted from his company, and the final portion leaps ahead to 1998, after Jobs has been restored as Apple’s leader.
The products are easily categorized as good, bad, and good, respectively; what really matters are the characters. Yet Sorkin resists the tendency to show that any of them have changed, fundamentally. Throughout the movie, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is an arrogant, supremely-obsessed perfectionist; Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his director of marketing, is a thankless, supremely-efficient enabler; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), an Apple engineer, is a supremely-cowed tech guy; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple co-founder, is a nerdy, supremely-self righteous tech guy; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), former Pepsi executive and Apple executive for a time, is a polished, supremely-corporate corporate guy.
Even without researching the veracity of the tale, it quickly becomes evident that Sorkin has narrowed things down to a few key characters who serve to lob opposing viewpoints at Jobs. In essence, the film boils Jobs down to a man who denied the paternity of his daughter Lisa for many years, and uses that to shine a disapproving light on the things Jobs supposedly felt were more important than fatherhood (i.e. Apple products).
It’s a supremely-reductive approach that might have worked in theory (or on the printed page). Brought to life by director Danny Boyle, however, Steve Jobs talks but does not sing. Filled with often-scintillating conversations as it is, Boyle struggles to transform the material into a cinematic experience, leaning on odd photographic angles and irregularly added visual distractions that tend to diminish the impact of the words slinging across the screen.
The most intriguing, visually, is the decision to film the individual segments in 16mm, 35mm, and digital, respectively, to represent the changing eras. But, again, it serves as more of a distraction than anything else, as though Boyle didn’t trust that the material and the performances could stand on their own. It reminds of too many stage-to-screen adaptations of the past, in which the film versions pushed characters outside for no apparent reason.
Steve Jobs does that, too, which makes the movie kind of a drag, something that might play better as a straight dramatic presentation on stage. The story of Jobs and the technological changes he foresaw is a fascinating tale, one that is shortchanged in a movie that is more obsessed with a father’s shortcomings.
The film opens at AMC Northpark 15 and Cinemark West Plano on Friday, October 16, before expanding wide on October 23.