Film Review: Steve Jobs

It’s no secret Steve Jobs was a complicated and enigmatic man. Since his death in 2011, there have been two films made about his life. Jobs, made in 2013 with Ashton Kutcher, was not the home-run success Open Road Films was hoping for. But fast-forward two short years and pair Danny Boyle (127 Hours) with Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), and it’s safe to assume you have a higher caliber film.

Perfectly timed with Oscar season, Steve Jobs is a unique look into analyzing three major milestones in Jobs’ life and how he morphed as a father, entrepreneur, and human.

The film begins with archival footage of a man wearing coke-bottle glasses predicting the “computer dependent society” that will come in the next fifty (or so) years. He stands in front of a massive machine or “primitive computer” and waxes philosophy to a news reporter about how people can benefit from having the use of this personal machine in their reach.

We fast-forward to year 1984 where Steve and his team of engineers are working feverishly to make a computer say, “hello” during the product launch of the Macintosh computer. It’s not just a computer making the next leap to full compatibility with the human race, it’s Steve securing his foothold in engineering history. He continues to push his team to just “make it work” within the next fifteen minutes, even if it means cheating and advertising something the computer can’t actually do. What a classy guy.

The film folds into a Dickensian format of bringing three people or ghosts of Steve’s past to his dressing room in an effort to humanize him. The first is Chrisann Brennan, the mother of the child he vehemently denies is his. She begs him for money because, while he is worth millions of dollars in the stock market, she and her daughter are forced to apply for welfare.

“Coach lands on the runway at the same time as first class.”

Tears and yelling ensue eventually having Jobs yield flippantly and giving her everything she needs. He might as well be throwing change at the poor with how little he cares about this woman or her situation.

The next “ghost,” Steve Wozniak, played by a brilliant Seth Rogan, walks and talks, begging Jobs to just acknowledge to the world that there is a team outside Macintosh and they deserve credibility. Jobs can’t seem to understand the concept of thanking anyone other than himself in an ego-maniacal delusion and refuses with a breeze-through arrogant flare.

Jobs is now seconds from crossing the stage to unveil the “talking” Macintosh when John Sculley greets him with a bottle of 1955 Margaux. Who can refuse such a drink? They talk about being powerful men in a powerful world personifying Steve’s leap from a garage to the corporate structure. John sees Jobs’ vulnerability and says, “Why do adopted people feel rejected instead of selected?”

The film flashes through news footage documenting the failure of the Macintosh while we whisk year by year to the next monumental occasion for Jobs, 1988, when he is unveiling the Black Cube for his new start-up company, Next.

In this sequence, his ego has been “chipped,” but his Caesar mentality (“I am surrounded by enemies…“) has not changed. Told in the same manner as the events in 1984, Jobs is getting ready to go on stage when he is, again, visited by his same three ghosts: his family and daughter, Lisa, Steve Wozniak, and John Sculley.

This time tensions have changed. Lisa begs her father to let her live with him even though he still is unsure about being a father, Wozniak is now begging Jobs to acknowledge the lesser folk in the building of Apple, and Sculley is “rejected” by Jobs in a loud and tyrannical pissing contest for firing him.

In what turns out to be a massive revenge plot, Jobs goes out on stage full-knowing the Black Cube is a massive failure. But that is not the end of the man yet. We move forward in the same capacity via news footage and scathing reviews to 1998 when Jobs is unveiling the revered iMac.

He has calmed substantially and seems to have a more human or chipped sense of himself. He doesn’t care about starting exactly on time, and he knows that human relations are more important than the computer. It has just taken him fourteen years to figure it out.

* * * * *

My first computer experience was a Macintosh in third grade. I remember programs like Kid Pix and Oregon Trail being my main focus and the giant floppy disks that actually could bend if you waved them hard enough. My childhood was shaped by Steve Jobs and his collaborations with Apple. So, I know this man is incredibly important.

What I enjoyed about the film was the humanization of his character. He is not a god or Caesar. He was a flawed man who was terrified of failing, whether that is his job, his reputation, or his impending fatherhood.

Michael Fassbender is no stranger to intense roles. I still think Macbeth was one of the best films this year, but his embodiment of Steve Jobs was uncanny. He looked very different from the larger-than-life man, but looks didn’t matter once Fassbender opened his mouth and the words of the computer genius spilled out. I believed him and more importantly, I felt for him. It’s difficult to make a egotistical and manipulative man likable, but Fassbender pulls it off in the third act flawlessly.

Because the film is all about technology and the changing formats, Danny Boyle, the film’s director, made an interesting, if not gimmicky, choice. He filmed each section with a different film stock. The first act of 1984 was shot in 16mm, giving the air a gritty and dated look. You get the impression that Steve is not as slick in this era walking around in socks and running his stressed fingers through longer hair.

When we flash-forward to 1988, the film stock changes to 35mm; the gold standard of film. He looks slick, professional, and expensive. The Black Cube was a financial flop, and these days, any use of film stock seems to add dollar signs to any budget. It seemed perfectly fitting for an unnecessary machine. But when we move to 1998, the stock is digital. It has adapted to the modern technology and is also much more relaxed, like Steve appears on screen.

Boyle and his director of photography, Alwin H. Kuchler (Divergent, Hanna) brought more to the table than just a straight-laced delivery of a biopic; they brought forward a revitalization of a dying film medium.

However, was the use of the different film stocks a way to hide some of the imperfections of the story? Is the gimmick of optimizing the film world’s resources just a chance to make the film seem more interesting? Without the different grains, I don’t know if the casual viewer would have noticed and/or cared. Like computer geeks fawning over the newest technology, the stocks may just be for the film nerds to soak in.

It will be interesting to see what the awards season deems Fassbender’s most notable performance. My prediction: he will be nominated for Steve Jobs but deserve it for Macbeth. The Academy is not ready to award much to Shakespeare anymore. Steve Jobs and his legacy are more “hip” and recent thus “deserving” of the golden statue…that is, if he gets it at all. We shall see.

3 out of 5 stars

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