Steve Jobs April 2, 2016
Steve Jobs has proven to be extraordinarily difficult to profile in film. Whether he’s been embodied by Ashton Kutcher or Noah Wyle in movies more rinky-dink than solid, to appropriately pay tribute to such a great man is quite possibly an impossible task. Hard to unravel both professionally and personally, his life covers too much ground to fit into a feature length film, let alone a surprisingly never-done-before miniseries. So I suppose we can all agree that more vital is capturing his essence, as transforming every moment of his life into efficient drama would be both messy and long-winded.
It’s been said that last year’s Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, is the finest cinematic representation of the man. Despite not having seen any of the past dramas revolving around its titular groundbreaker, I’m convinced that no treatment could be better than the one Steve Jobs offers, its theatricality and agitated adultion as passionate as its central figure. Its speed is breakneck, and brilliance is flirted with like a prodigy not yet capable of harnessing their potential.
Yet I never found myself able to connect to its intensity in the way I’d like to. It’s a film in crisis mode throughout its length, one two-hour scene of bombastic conflict infested with razor sharp dialogue and astronomically good performances, sufficient in commendability and not so much in connectivity.
Steve Jobs inspires thrills similar to ones you’d find watching a NASCAR race: able to initiate instant pulse-pounding but lacking in breathtaking aftermath. But what a masterpiece it is in writing, in acting; what it doesn’t deliver in memorable catharsis it more than makes up for in artistic competency.
Michael Fassbender stars as the eponymous Jobs in a performance I believe to be much more Oscar worthy than the one provided by Leo in The Revenant, which is inarguably great but doesn’t much compare to Fassbender’s career changing, Shakespearean nobility. Rather than cover a couple years of his life or attempt to micromanage Jobs’s existence from beginning to end, the film sagely depicts three essential periods in the man’s life: before and after the failed launch of the 1984 Apple Macinstosh, the 1988 commencement of the NeXt Computer, and his return to grace in 1998 through the introduction of the iMac.
Touched upon are his relationships with Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his faithful confidant; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the co-creator of the Apple II disgusted by Jobs’s determination to leave past team members unaccounted for; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the fed-up CEO of Apple; Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the estranged mother of his child; and his daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss in 1984, Ripley Sobo in 1988, and Perla Haney-Jardine in 1998), with whom he has a fractured relationship.
The detailed recountings of Jobs’s associations with these individuals is what makes Steve Jobs the fascinating anti-biopic that it is. Sorkin’s preeminent screenplay (obviously the work of a linguistic maestro) constructs telling relationships through hyperactive dialogue instead of spacious dramatic care. Especially pertinent are Jobs’s affinities with Joanna and with Lisa, as scenes with them (mostly) strip away the egoism that characterize moments with others. Winslet, along with the three actresses that play Lisa at different ages, command our attention and effectively draw upon the abilities their characters have in softening Jobs’s oft diabolical shell. Within his relationships with them, Jobs becomes three-dimensional rather than a symbol of self-absorption. Without these women, the film would strictly be two-hours worth of battles of words, of lashing out with no conscience to guide it all. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but because Steve Jobs still comes across as being such much of the time, its rare bits of humanity are pivotal.
While Steve Jobs is among the most impressively acted and written movies of 2015, it remains detached from me, a piece of dramatic phenomenon with dignified structure but no soul to make it more than just accomplished moviemaking. Still, Fassbender and his ensemble are unfathomably good, Sorkin’s script is superb, and Boyle’s direction is solid and trusting of the talents working under him. B