Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Big Apple: Danny Boyle's “Steve Jobs” is a Fascinating Character Piece

If “Steve Jobs” seems suspiciously like the Oscar-winning hit “The Social Network” you're not far off. Both films are about eccentric (read: jerky) computer entrepreneurs with scripts by Aaron Sorkin. Even if the films tread familiar ground, they couldn't be more different which is why directors' visions really set movies apart from each other. “Steve Jobs” is essentially shot as a three act play that take place during three product launches during Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' career. It's not new news that Mr. Jobs hasn't always been perceived as a saint, not every businessman is, though accepting a Hollywood depiction of a real life person should always be taken with a grain of salt. He was a man who revolutionized an industry, and is rightfully considered to be one of the most important and influential people of the 20th century.

Danny Boyle isn't exactly the name you'd expect to direct a talky and intimate film about a ruthless businessman. In all honestly, it doesn't always feel like a Boyle film, but his trademarks are definitely there. The film opens up in 1984 during the moments before Jobs (played ferociously by Michael Fassbender) takes the stage to unveil the new Macintosh computer. There with his cheerful and allegiant assistant Joanna (Kate Winslet, always hitting a homerun) Jobs gets confronted by several people from his past, including his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), his daughter Lisa (whom he refuses to believe is his), and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) years before he ever danced with the stars. They all want something from Jobs that he refuses to give them. The first act shows what a, for lack of a better work, jerk Steve Jobs is. Or at least how the script portrays him.

In the next act, it's 1988, and Jobs has left Apple to found a new company and launch the NeXT computer system. Even though it's been four years, all his old ghosts come back to haunt him: Steve and Chrisann are there and even current Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) who is confronted by Jobs who is still bitter about being ousted from the company. The final act, ten years later during the introduction of the iMac, is a chance for redemption and triumph after his two previous product launches don't quite achieve the sales Jobs had originally intended.

Unlike most of Boyle's other films, “Steve Jobs” doesn't exactly feel like a cinematic tour de force- it's more intimate. Besides the fact that each segment is shot on three different evolving film stocks, the film feels rather boxed in (like a computer?) though it's always masterfully composed. It's really a play-like character driven piece and that's not surprising. The film is more focused on the dialogue, which to the audience feels almost like a McGuffin: we know it's important to the characters but we're mostly just there to watch talented actors do their stuff. A the music feels more technical than the film itself with composer Daniel Pemberton offering a fun, modern sounding riff you might expect from a David Fincher film.

One doesn't go to see the movie “Steve Jobs” to see a portrait of a “great man.” You go to see the outstanding performances and unique structure of the screenplay. No one is denying what Jobs did for society and how it affects our lives to this day, but he's certainly not the most likable character ever put on film. And that's the way it should be. We're not watching “Forrest Gump” after all. He's aggressive, assertive, prickish, and a mastermind. Ultimately, Boyle and Sorkin want you to know that Steve Jobs did a lot of great things, but his personal life had a few technical glitches.  GRADE: B+  

Trailer for Steve Jobs on TrailerAddict.