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New Release Review - STEVE JOBS

Steve Jobs prepares backstage for three key product launches.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston


"There are times in Steve Jobs when you stop to assess just what it is the characters are arguing about, and you realise there's not really much in the way of drama here, but Sorkin's words and the ensemble performance keep you so engrossed, it's difficult to quibble."





The first time I encountered a computer was in the early 1980s. My initial instinct as a child was to touch the screen, which prompted my mother to warn me about the dangers of radiation, while my old man directed my hands to the attached keyboard; it didn't make sense to me at that age for touchscreens to still be a thing of the future. In Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, Fassbender's titular tech titan explains why he cancelled production of a failed PDA - the problem was the stylus; Jobs wanted a product you could control with your fingers. It's one of the few moments in the film that gives an insight into just what Jobs actually did in his profession. Another comes when Jobs notes the coincidental bonus of a Macintosh floppy disc being a perfect fit for a shirt breast pocket. If you want to learn why Jobs rose to prominence and impacted the modern world, you'll have to look elsewhere; that's not this film's concern.
In the hands of Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Jobs becomes a Scrooge substitute for a three act mobile play that draws heavily on A Christmas Carol in its structure and themes. Jobs repeatedly tells us (because Sorkin is a TV writer par excellence, but has yet to grasp the idea of cinematic storytelling) how frustrated he is by humans and their flaws, gradually recognising and acknowledging his own shortcomings through interactions with a gallery of supporting characters, who pop up like Dickensian ghosts and blur the line between reality and Jobs' psyche. There's his marketing executive, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a dodgy Polish accent that bizarrely grows stronger as the movie progresses), who in Sorkin's hands becomes Jobs' personal assistant; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who co-founded Apple with Jobs in a suburban garage; Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, an actor born to recite Sorkinisms); Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), a put upon techie; and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the estranged mother of Jobs' daughter, Lisa.
The latter character provides the closest the movie has to a narrative thrust. The film takes place over the course of three key product launches in Jobs' career - the Macintosh in 1984, the Black Cube (or white elephant?) in 1988, and the iMac in 1998 - and Lisa is present at all three, played brilliantly in the first two cases by a pair of gifted child actors, Makenzie Moss (1984) and Ripley Sobo (1988), and a not so convincing Perla Haney-Jardine in the final act. The opening act sees Jobs cruelly dismiss the idea that he named an operating system after the child, who he denies is his own, but when Lisa displays a high level of intelligence in operating a Macintosh, Jobs begins to warm to her. It's his gradual acceptance of his child that gives us something to invest in, but it's resolved in the sort of trite, unearned climax you expect from a modern Cameron Crowe movie, its male protagonist getting off the hook by admitting his flaws with a quippy line of self-deprecation.
When film reviewers speak of style over substance, they're usually referring to visuals, but the phrase can apply equally to dialogue, and Sorkin is a master of creating an illusion of importance by dazzling us with the rhythms of his dialogue, making debates over corn subsidies in The West Wing play like the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are times in Steve Jobs when you stop to assess just what it is the characters are arguing about, and you realise there's not really much in the way of drama here, but Sorkin's words and the ensemble performance, including a career best from Fassbender, keep you so engrossed, it's difficult to quibble. Like the products of Apple, Steve Jobs isn't something you strictly need in your life, but it will keep you sufficiently distracted for a couple of hours.
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