Movie Review: "Steve Jobs"

Watching “Steve Jobs,” which is now out on Blu-ray and nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Actor (Michael Fassbender) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kate Winslet), is both a great and terrible experience.

Based on Walter Isaacson’s book, the screenplay for the film is from Aaron Sorkin and revolves around three different product launches from 1984 to 1998 over which Jobs presided. The occasional flashback exists within these larger moments, taking us inside the famous garage where Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) first created their computer or Jobs’ home, but these are but brief asides, the main thrust of the film exists during the moments before each launch.

It is a terribly clever notion for how to tell the story of a person knowing full well in advance that attempting to go from cradle-to-grave will cut out so much of what may be important. Of course, even if pieces of a cradle-to-grave story wind up on the floor they have the advantage of offering the sense that they’re giving the whole story. “Steve Jobs” doesn’t come remotely close to that.

Instead, the Danny Boyle directed film is focused on the moments and hints at the larger stories that exist beyond them. It attempts to offer insight into Jobs’ life and work and particular brand of crazy (we all have a brand of crazy, this isn’t a slight). But, as Fassbender’s Jobs points out during the 1998 launch of the iMac, there is the sense that people go more than a little nutty before a launch. It is an acknowledgment that what we’re seeing isn’t Jobs at his best, nor anyone around him at their best. We are instead seeing them all in heightened states of frustration and upset.

We are also not getting any moments of genius out of a man who is regularly touted as one. By the time a product gets to launch (beyond the iMac we see the first Macintosh and Next computers), the genius is done, it’s all inside in the box. The launch, instead, is salesmanship and so what “Steve Jobs” offers is the notion that he acted in utterly rotten fashion towards everyone around him on a fairly regular basis but they tolerated him because… well, that’s less than clear. Probably because he was smart, but even that’s questionable because everyone around him seems to be doing/know how to do all the work, while Jobs just motivates people entirely via stick and not carrot.

Those familiar with Sorkin will be able to instantly pick the movie up as having been written by the “West Wing” executive producer. It is full of rapid fire talking, lots of walking, and more than one bit of speechifying. Fassbender, Winslet (who plays Jobs’ right-hand woman, Joanna Hoffman), Jeff Daniels (who plays John Scully, Apple’s CEO), and more do a great job with the dialogue and frenzied nature of much of what takes place.

However, none of it ever feels quite deep enough. By the time the movie ends, we don’t know anymore about Jobs and his coworkers/competitors than we do five minutes into the film. Instead, we get to see them have the same arguments over the course of 15 years, except that they’re not having the arguments over 15 years, they’re having them on three separate occasions spread out over 15 years and we have absolutely no idea what takes place in the interim.

“Steve Jobs” then is a series of great moments handled brilliantly, but without depth and nuance. It feels like the backbone of a film that is begging to be fleshed out, particularly if one subscribes to any theory which suggests that Jobs was great at technology due to his ability to think out problems and develop great ideas. Virtually none of that is in evidence here. Instead, we get flashes of the whole, moments where Jobs does things like demand a button down shirt with a pocket because that way he can pull a 3.5″ disk out of it.

I love everything “Steve Jobs” has to offer, and yet can’t help but feel as though it’s nowhere near complete.

photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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