Steve Jobs is a movie I really enjoyed. I probably won’t come back to it again and again over the years, but seeing in the theater was a good time. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, there are a bunch of little things holding it back, but it’s still an really interesting movie and I can get on board with most (emphasis on most) of what director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are doing here.
Much has been made about the story structure of Steve Jobs. It takes place in three discrete moments in Jobs’ professional life: three product launches, first for the Macintosh, then NeXT, and finally the iMac. Each time around the refrain repeats, Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Seth Rogen) shows up to ask Jobs for an acknowledgment for the Apple II team, Jobs’ head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) begs him to acknowledge his daughter Lisa and questions his decisions in general, Lisa’s mother Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) asks for child support, and the CEO of Apple John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) offers encouragement. Across the years we see how Jobs interacts with these different characters and we get to know him a bit better each time and see how he changes over the years.
Just like there are three moments in Jobs’ life on display here, there seem to be three main creative voices in this film: director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and actor Michael Fassbender. To be perfectly honest, I think most of the problems of this film come from Sorkin. As interesting and different as the structure of the film is, the characters’ dialogue tends to be so repetitive and on the nose that it holds the movie back considerably. He ends up stating, through the mouths of his characters, The Point of the Movie rather than trusting the audience to find it for themselves through the dramatic situations of the film. Take for example that conversation between Jobs and Woz about “playing the orchestra.” It’s a clear and effective metaphor for what Jobs does, but we didn’t need it explained for five minutes. The first time the line came up, I thought it was brilliant and wanted to pick it as my favorite quote for the film. But five minutes later, after it had been dissected and explained, then repeated for “dramatic effect,” I just couldn’t.
An obvious comparison to this movie is The Social Network, the other film about a tech genius from the same screenwriter. Fincher is able to overtake the Sorkinness of that picture more effectively than Boyle is able to here. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing, because I like what Boyle is doing here. The actors all give great performances, any problems are in the dialogue not in their delivery of it. They all work together really well, and Boyle throws in some visual touches (POV shots from the computer, projecting a space ship on the wall behind Jobs as he tells a story) and sustains this great energy throughout the picture. As such, it becomes a much warmer film than The Social Network is, and again, I don’t mean that as better or worse, just an observation.
The unsung hero of this film, in my opinion, isn’t any of these three artists, but rather Elliot Graham, the editor. I really liked the editing in the film. It’s true the film does only take place backstage, but flashbacks to events before or in between product launches are intercut in conversations that are currently happening in a very interesting way. This is a cool way to give us more plot details and connect between different events. There are also some really energizing montages in between the different product launches, incorporating archival footage in order to get us from point A to point B. The editing was really what impressed me walking out of the theater.
The film ends on a weirdly sentimental note, which had me questioning the character of Steve Jobs and what exactly Sorkin was getting at here. This depiction of Jobs’ relationship with Lisa is the only time I think the structure of the film doesn’t serve it so well. Getting from what we see in the first section with those two to the second one, I definitely got, but from the second one to the third one not so much. I’m not really sure why, maybe because it was a bigger time jump, but there was some stuff missing in the arc of that relationship I feel. I suppose it’s because we never really saw that turning point and what makes him finally acknowledge her as his own child. He just sort of does and I’m not sure how we got there, so it seems sort of insincere somehow, just thrown in there to get us a happy ending.
I really liked a lot of things about Steve Jobs. I liked the energy it had, the pacing, and how the flashbacks were intercut. The acting was fantastic across the board, even if the characters’ dialogue was sometimes obvious and preachy. The structure keeps things way more interesting than your standard cradle to grave biopic, but at the same time, cutting out so much stuff between product launches means some things don’t make as much sense as maybe they should have. There seems to be a criticism for every compliment I hand out for this movie, but nevertheless, it’s absolutely worth your two hours in the theater.
“It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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