Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz, Adam Shapiro, John Steen, Stan Roth, Mihran Slougian
Written by: Aaron Sorkin, based on a book by Walter Isaacson
Directed by: Danny Boyle
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 122
Date: 10/23/2015

Steve Jobs (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Apple Boss

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As a fictional biopic, Steve Jobs has a lot going for it, and most of it lies in Aaron Sorkin's clever script. Firstly, the movie is honeycombed with Sorkin's deliciously stylized dialogue, which I like, even though I have begun to hear rumblings that people are getting sick of it. Secondly, Sorkin has come up with a winning structure that avoids the usual "highlights" format of most biopics. It takes place, very simply, at three Apple product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT box in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. As Sorkin has pointed out, these segments break down to "the king falls," "the king in exile," and "the king returns."

There's a "ticking clock" for each (roughly 40 minute) segment, as Jobs interacts with a handful of specific characters before getting on stage at the start of the presentation. Michael Fassbender stars as the Apple co-founder, and even if he doesn't much look like Jobs, he captures a kind of Jobs-like essence. Seth Rogen plays Steve Wozniak, the other Apple co-founder who actually built things but didn't have Jobs' flair for getting ahead. "Woz" is primarily concerned with getting Jobs to publicly acknowledge the makers of the Apple II, which was the company's bread and butter for many years. (Jobs refuses, claiming he doesn't want to "look backwards" at a product launch.)

Jobs must also deal with a former girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), whose child she claims is Jobs'. (In this movie, he denies it at first, then comes to accept it.) The child, Lisa, is played by three different actresses at different ages: Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss. He also bickers with marketing head Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and has tense chats with his old mentor and former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). All the characters help form a perfect three-act arc, even if it isn't very realistic.

Meanwhile, director Danny Boyle uses the best of his Oscar-winning skills, especially the flashy ones that brought Slumdog Millionaire (2008) to the winner's circle. There are all kinds of striking angles and uses of indoor light and space that are impressive, even if they also draw attention to themselves. Best of all, Boyle keeps everything moving at the pace of the frenetic screenplay.

Alex Gibney's documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine came out not long ago, and it's difficult to have seen it before Boyle's movie. Gibney's film tried for something bigger and failed, and in the process made Steve Jobs look like a monster. Boyle and Sorkin don't exactly exonerate him, but they try a bit harder to make him look human, to give him cares and worries while he's backstabbing everyone. It's a much more flattering portrait and one that suits the legend better, although it's nowhere near as profound as The Social Network (2010), Sorkin's portrait of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, directed by the more gifted David Fincher.

Even so, as large of a figure as Steve Jobs was in life, this movie is, simultaneously, disingenuous, shallow, and highly entertaining. I think I like it for not taking itself so darn seriously, and I might like to see it again someday, but at the same time, it feels wrong; I didn't really want to like this guy. I may have wanted to know more about him, but I didn't want to like him. But I kinda did. And now the high praise the movie is receiving shows that it may have turned him into a Forrest Gump-type figure; a reprehensible character becomes a hero. It's possible that time will be reconcile these conflicting ideas, but Steve Jobs does the job only partway.

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