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Film Review

May not compute

10/28/2015

“Steve Jobs” is, by most measures, not doing well at the box office. The decision to give the film a limited initial release seems to have backfired, and it would appear that “Steve Jobs” will face the very real danger of underperforming the almost universally dismal, Ashton Kutcher-fronted “Jobs.” This is, on nearly every count, deeply unfortunate, because “Steve Jobs” is really a great film.

The Danny Boyle-directed, Aaron Sorkin-penned film is less a straight biography and more a slickly stylized look at the man who would eventually lead Apple to greatness. Michael Fassbender makes no real attempt to imitate Jobs outside of using an American accent, which is probably for the best. As a human, the real-life Jobs was just quirky enough to make any impressions seem farcical. Indeed, the biggest flaw of “Jobs” was watching Kutcher do his genuine best to waddle around in Jobs’ half-limp-half-lope gait, his face screwed up with serious emotion and conflict.

“Steve Jobs” Rated R 122 minutes Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan

“Steve Jobs”
Rated R
122 minutes
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan

Instead, Fassbender gives us the broad strokes: Jobs’ well-documented contempt for virtually everyone else around him. His passion for aesthetic and, most importantly, Jobs’ unflinching commitment to forcing those under him to produce the greatness that he himself could see but was incapable of realizing.

“Steve Jobs” doesn’t narrate like a conventional biography. Instead, we are given three vignettes from Jobs’ life, each playing out in real time, backstage before three product launches: Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.  Each launch marks an important point in Jobs’ life, as Macintosh was the project that eventually got Jobs fired from Apple, the Cube is the one that brought him back, and iMac saved the company from insolvency. Boyle places you physically within the time frame of each launch by playing with the recording formats of each vignette: Super 8mm for Macintosh, 32mm film for the Cube, and digital for iMac.

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Before each launch (none of which we are actually shown), Jobs has interactions with the same five people: project coordinator Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslett), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple co-founder and lead engineer Steve Wozniack (Seth Rogan), programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Jobs’ daughter, Lisa (portrayed at various ages by three different girls). The story plays out through these interactions, and while Jobs’ relationship with his daughter is obviously the most important one in Sorkin’s eyes, the most compelling moments take place between Jobs and Sculley and Jobs and Wozniack, the latter of whom is played nearly to perfection by Rogan, who manages to capture his intellect and pride, as well as his basic goodness and optimistic belief in others.

The performances are what make “Steve Jobs” a compelling watch. There can be debate about whether or not the world needs more than one movie about someone like Jobs, and Sorkin’s dialogue is something that people either like or they don’t, but Fassbender, Rogan and Winslett, in particular, bring something special to the table that make the scenes feel vibrant and alive.

Ultimately, “Steve Jobs” is probably doomed to failure. Jobs as a person might not be a deep enough pool to mine for a multitude of films, and Fassbender — great though he may be in the role — certainly plays up Jobs’ more tyrannical traits to a level of exaggeration that will turn some people off. But if taken for what it is — a  stylized look at a man who was obsessed with style — “Steve Jobs” is a riveting movie. CV

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