Published on October 27th, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant0
If you see one of the 800 Steve Jobs movies this year, see this one! Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin make a good Jobs biopic.
When I tweeted that I had just seen Steve Jobs, the new film from director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin, a woman tweeted me back expressing some Steve Jobs movie fatigue. “Could there be too many movies about the guy already?” she asked. She wouldn’t be alone in feeling this way, as evidenced by the underwhelming box office returns from opening weekend (Variety ran an excellent analysis of what may have caused it to flop so hard out of the gate). I can count seven movies off the top of my head about Jobs (including documentaries), at least four of them released since Jobs died in 2011.
So, are there too many movies about Steve Jobs?
My answer is a wishy washy ‘sort of.’ There certainly are a number of mediocre celluloid versions of Jobs’ life and work being pushed out. But I think we may be too close to it right now — to Jobs and his legacy. We take him for granted because he’s larger than life in our lifetime (and some people even so dislike the cult of Apple that it adds to their Jobs fatigue). But what Jobs accomplished was immense. He truly changed the world.
I’m not saying it’s all for good, but he and Steve Wozniak pretty much made the personal computer in your home a reality, he turned technology and advertising into art and beautiful design, and most of all, he integrated disparate technologies in our lives. He shattered the boundaries of what a computer company could do, and his computers smashed the limitations of what we can accomplish in our lives.
Of course, I’m not suggesting he did this by himself or single-handedly, but as a movie like Steve Jobs is quick to point out, his will was a force of nature that drove innovations through red tape and shortsighted stockholders. So, yes, there are too many ‘meh’ Steve Jobs movies, but he will be remembered as one of the biggest architects of the late 20th and early 21st century when we look back. He’s the cotton gin. He’s the printing press. He’s the industrial revolution. I don’t say this in any form of awe or sycophantism — I say it as simple fact.
It’s too bad that this film is being passed over by filmgoers so far, because it is pretty damn good, starting with the structure of the film itself. It doesn’t play out as many biopics of legends do, with the clichés of watching their brother die in childhood, or the music bio trope of framing the flashback with the artist about to go out on stage and taking the time to remember how far they’ve come. Instead, we follow Steve Jobs and those in his orbit at three different intervals in his life — backstage at launches for iconic products in 1984, 1988, and 1998.
It’s worth noting here, that the same structure that makes it feel so fresh and brilliant also hurts it a bit. Sometimes I was pulled out of the drama when things felt shoehorned in or time-compressed for dramatic effect and script efficiency. Funny that all the same people showed up every few years to continue the same conversations with him. However, life is a complex thing and these things had to fit into the story. Because the structure worked so well otherwise, I was willing to look past that.
Michael Fassbender, one of my favourite contemporary actors, brings life to both the monster and the wounded man inside of Jobs. Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogan play their parts well as Apple CEO John Sculley and the man who built the computer in the garage with Jobs, Steve Wozniak. Michael Stuhlbarg is brilliant as one of Jobs’ longtime, put upon employees. And Kate Winslet is also very good, aside from the fact that her supposed Eastern European accent comes and goes like the signal bars on an iffy wi-fi signal.
Danny Boyle brings velocity and movement to Sorkin’s tight script, making it an action movie for the mind (the Aaron Sorkin ‘walk and talk’ is in full effect here, folks). Sometimes, it reminded me a bit of something like Glengarry Glen Ross, just in the way that it sort of feels like a play on film, with restricted locations. It’s smart, cutting, and funny, and like Moneyball and other Sorkin work, it does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of the tech world or Apple history, without losing the audience to exposition or hard-to-understand concepts.
And best of all, Steve Jobs is not whitewashed; we see Jobs in all his prick glory, the man who many felt was more tech innovator than human being. The movie also doesn’t accept Jobs on his own terms to glorify this behaviour. It asks the question, quite literally in one scene, ‘can you be this big of a force of change without being an asshole?’
And yet, the film also shows that he is very much a human being, who is driven by his secret disappointments and rejections just like the rest of us. I recently read the Ed Catmull book Creativity, Inc, about Pixar, which was also owned by Jobs until he sold it to Disney. Catmull worked with Jobs for a quarter of a century, and he notes at the end of the book that yes, Jobs was all those things that the books and movies say about him — but he was also much more. I don’t know what Catmull would think of this movie, but it does try to touch on this aspect of Steve Jobs the man.
The title card in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi says, “No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include every event, each person who helped shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and try to find one’s way to the heart of the man.” I think Steve Jobs does a good job of getting to the heart of the man, even if some of it is dramatic fiction.
So yeah, there may be too many Steve Jobs movies out there. But in the case of this one, to quote the clichéd movie poster joke, if you only see one Steve Jobs movie this year, see this one!