Steve Jobs (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
4Nov/150

Steve Jobs (2015)

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Steve Jobs - complicated tech guru, or bastard with an iron grip over those unfortunate enough to cross his path?  Three important days in the life of Jobs hope to shed light on him by looking at the launch of the Macintosh, the NeXT Computer, and the iMac.  Steve Jobs is directed by Danny Boyle from a screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin and stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels.

Here's your future folksIf there's any phrase I would like to see phased out of existence it's, "The truth is in the middle."  It's a statement which only works when the truth is truly in the middle, and those situations are so rare that applying the phrase to any complex situation does justice to neither side of an argument.  The truth is often messy, rarely what we wish it to be, and requires consideration of factors which may be beyond the standard viewpoint of any participant.  Steve Jobs is not interested in the truth, and instead wants us to meet in the middle.

The middle-ground of Steve Jobs tackles not the idea that Jobs' attempts at bringing computing to the masses created a worldwide disparity in the working conditions of those who created the machines.  Nor does Steve Jobs' middle-ground consider the real genius of Jobs' ability to market products in such a way that you had to have it right now.  No, the Jobs of Steve Jobs is a middle-ground of familiar dramatic beats, a man torn between his desire to break new technological ground and keep his loved ones from ripping the flesh from his bones.  Truth be told there isn't a bad story to tell in navigating the tension between those two components, but Steve Jobs seems content at nodding its head toward those conflicts without spending much time on them.

Ultimately, Steve Jobs is the sort of toothless awards season bait which gets paraded around this time every year.  All the performers do a fine job with the material as written, and director Danny Boyle sure as hell does his hardest to gussy up material with a long and troubled production history.  But I can't find an idea of Jobs in Steve Jobs which hasn't already been covered in dozens of watered-down memorials or in the love / hate relationship people have with the technology he helped bring to life.  Steve Jobs is a long con, told from the point of the villain, who makes all the important moves before the film even started.  This begs the question as an audience member - if the villain explains just how everything is going to fall into place then we watch it over the next hour, then what's the point of watching Steve Jobs?

Danny Boyle's skill at fracturing the frame hints at a complex look at Steve Jobs which Aaron Sorkin's screenplay doesn't provide.

Danny Boyle's skill at fracturing the frame hints at a complex look at Steve Jobs which Aaron Sorkin's screenplay doesn't provide.

There are multiple answers to that and the first starts with the performances.  Michael Fassbender is but one of many performers who had or passed the opportunity to play Jobs and his performance is the true high point.  Fassbender erupted into worldwide acclaim because of his complex and tortured performances but here he brings some impish quality to Jobs that he previously introduced in Frank.   He plays Jobs as a man who can't resist twisting the knife a bit as he climbs up or down the ladder and his late-film yoga routines in the midst of big business media events feels like he's putting a glossy sheen over a nest of vipers.  For those who think Jobs introduced greater global harm than good in spite of his Buddhist-leanings, Fassbender's work will resonate strongly.

He's backed by a number of great performances which are good but in some cases poorly served by Aaron Sorkin's screenplay.  Kate Winslet's turn as Joanna Hoffman surprised me the most in the traditional long-suffering assistant role who can't help but twist her own dagger into Jobs when she gets the chance.  Recurring Sorkin player Jeff Daniels as John Sculley also wrings some explosive tension out of his conversations with Fassbender's Jobs by playing the business-savvy Abel to Jobs' marketing-savvy Cain.  Others aren't served as well, with Seth Rogen doing what he can with the put-upon nerd role which finds no new dramatic resonance when he has the same plea delivered with the same dialogue over the course of the near two decades of Steve Jobs.

The other important factor to Steve Jobs' semi-success is the direction by Boyle.  In all honesty, there was never a point in Steve Jobs where I felt he was the appropriate choice for Sorkin's screenplay.  But he kept Steve Jobs lively and moving by illustrating the march of progress as an overlay via shots we don't realize are filtered until the camera moves just a bit above the performers.  I also like how Apple is presented as a sort of specter of things to come, with the simple glowing logo reflected in the eyes and mirrors throughout the various media buildings as a sort of bomb always waiting to go off.  Boyle is a fine adept to the Sorkin "walk 'n talk" style as well, keeping the camera moving from varying heights and angles to mirror the flow of the conversation onscreen.

Jeff Daniels gets to bring out the dramatic heft of Steve Jobs during his confrontational scenes with Michael Fassbender.

Jeff Daniels gets to bring out the dramatic heft of Steve Jobs during his confrontational scenes with Michael Fassbender.

This brings me to the issue I've danced around and now have to address directly - Sorkin's screenplay.  Looking back over his career I find the only media he's written for which resonated with me was for The Social Network.  David Fincher was a great fit for Sorkin's writing on The Social Network because he feasts on the damage caused by the dark gods of consumerism.  Boyle is a director you go to when the screenplay needs to be punched up with the visuals.  The rare great sequence comes when Boyle is able to fully unleash the dark capital dreams of Jobs like his 1 AM boardroom encounter with Sculley when the universe seems to be weeping with this minor setback.

Those moments are rare, and instead Boyle is left with endless dialogue sequences where the true white genius just isn't appreciated enough.  Sorkin's writing tics are in full awkward display during the first third of Steve Jobs where the dialogue loops back around to the Mac saying "Hello" so many times an aspiring Youtuber could get a good dance remix going out of it.  These moments don't highlight anything we didn't already know about Jobs, so when the second act replaces the Mac's "Hello" with "OS" then the aesthetics for the iMac in the third act it comes across as endless wheel-spinning over this genius doing his thing.  Steve Jobs is slightly better than The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything in taking its white savior down a peg or two, but ultimately serves as a two-hour infomercial for a man whose legacy is already secure.

There's one aspect of Sorkin's screenplay which hints at a better direction Steve Jobs could have gone in.  At times we see Jobs and his daughter, and when he's trying to convince her of his viewpoint we see Jobs' obsession as the childish tantrum it is.  But Jobs' daughter is like a footnote to be revisited instead of a driving force in either Jobs' life or Steve Jobs itself.  We will likely debate over the merits of Jobs' success for decades to come, but Steve Jobs does little to show that's an argument worth having.

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Tail - Steve JobsSteve Jobs (2015)

Directed by Danny Boyle.
Screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels.

Posted by Andrew

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