"Steve Jobs" focuses on the myth instead of the man
What does a man have to do to have four movies made about him? He has to become famous young, die young, and make a bunch of important stuff in-between. More essentially, he must consider himself and his work very important and treat every one around him like a mere asset in his own life as a result. “Steve Jobs” is the fourth movie about the life of Apple co-creator Steve Jobs. Following 1999’s TV movie “Pirates Of Silicon Valley,” 2013's “Jobs” and the 2015 documentary, “Steve Jobs: Man In The Machine," Danny Boyle’s take on the life of the tech mogul is the most high profile by a wide margin.
Considering “Jobs” is one of the worst films ever made and the low profile nature of the other two films, “Steve Jobs” had a pretty low bar to become the best movie about Steve Jobs. While it undoubtedly reaches that bar, it doesn’t soar much higher.
“Steve Jobs” checks many of the boxes you would expect it to: it’s impeccably acted, beautifully shot, and dynamically directed. Writer Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue zings off the lips of a deserving and game cast. Michael Fassbender does not disappoint as Jobs, perfectly walking the biopic performance line between excellent acting and incredibly self-indulgent Oscar bait (hey, Eddie Redmayne).
[pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="none" shadow="on"]It continues to ask us to worship and forgive Jobs while constantly spelling out reasons we shouldn’t.[/pullquote]
Sorkin manages to set his film apart from standard biopics by bringing a unique structure. The film is essentially three long scenes, each taking place before one of Jobs’ signature product unveilings. This allows us to be saved from many tired biopic conventions: the moment of revelation, the forced romantic subplot, and the awkward and shoehorned death to end things. Unfortunately, Sorkin’s structure has many failings of its own.
After being subjected to last year’s 14-hour Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything,” I never thought I would complain about a biopic being too fast-paced, but “Steve Jobs” is. Every conversation in the film happens at such a high pace and intensity, it has a certain numbing quality. By the time the film reaches its climax, the incredibly hurtful words exchanged between Jobs and co-founder Steve Wozniak, played excellently by Seth Rogen, barely register.
More than anything, the film fails in its portrayal of Jobs. In the first act, it seems as though Jobs will be portrayed unapologetically as an awful person who does great things, but somehow throughout the film, Jobs always ends up in the right. He is just good enough a father, friend, or boss to remain redeemable at all times.
Danny Boyle clearly views Steve Jobs the same way as Jobs viewed himself. He shoots him as if he is truly Julius Caesar reincarnated with the camera always looking up at him, allowing him to tower over the audience in gorgeous light.
Bringing Sorkin along for the ride comes with its up and downs as always. He remains one of the greatest dialogue writers we’ve ever seen, but here the words are often too immaculate and high-minded for their own good. Jobs says things like, “So we can allow hackers and hobbyists to build HAM radios or something,” and, “God sent his only son on a suicide mission but we still like him because he invented trees.” The classic criticism of Sorkin is that his characters don’t speak like people. In his past films it has worked, for me anyway, because it’s how I would like people to speak. This is far from the case here.
Sorkin’s script also fails by being predictable and cheesy time and time again. The main function of the script, a series of emotional and confrontational conversations Jobs must be subjected to every time he unveils a new product, is in itself cheesy and all too convenient. Jobs cutely quips towards the end of the movie, “It’s like five minutes before each launch everyone goes to a bar and decides to hash out their bad blood with me.” It’s worth a cheap laugh but Sorkin essentially writes the biggest criticism of the film into its DNA.
Jobs’ closest consultant Joanna Hoffman, played by Kate Winslet, is a confusing misfire and not solely because of Winslet’s inconsistent Polish accent. Hoffman gets the most screen time of any of Jobs’ foils, but we end up with little to no insight into how or why Hoffman puts up with Jobs for the 15 years the movie covers. Wozniak, original Apple CEO John Sculley, and Jobs’ daughter get similarly weak development.
Overall, “Steve Jobs” approaches its protagonist with an unearned reverence. It continues to ask us to worship and forgive Jobs while constantly spelling out reasons we shouldn’t. In one of the more powerful scenes, Wozniak asks Jobs, “What do you do?” The film claims to have the answer but, if it does, it never shares it.