Film Review: Steve Jobs

Walking out of Steve Jobs on a rainy Wednesday evening, my friend Daniel and I were waiting until we were clear of the other moviegoers to dish on what we had just seen. We were about to delve in, when a poster for Christopher Plummer’s Remember caught Daniel’s eye. He mentioned it was a must-see he had caught at TIFF. We mused on how we were both inconsolable after watching Beginners.

“It was so beautiful.”

“I cried during the credits.”

Are you getting warm feelings about Christopher Plummer’s career right now? Did you forget what this review was about already?

This is the Steve Jobs effect.

Steve Jobs is not a particularly bad movie, but it’s just not a good movie either. This film is something to watch so you can pat yourself on the back, feel good about being part of the cultural zeitgeist, and then discuss other films you want to see more.

Oscar season is upon as and as always it comes with an onslaught of biopics. The Academy loves them a biopic and Steve Jobs will no doubt get its fair share of nods.  The movie hits all the right notes and yet, still leaves me wanting.

The legacy of Jobs unfolds in a trifecta of his most stressful early career product launches: the Mac, The Black Cube and the iMac, respectively. Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, with his Marketing Executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) always by his side, faces the public rejection of the Macintosh computer due to its closed operating system. He falls out with founding partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) for failing to acknowledge the Apple II, the only successful Apple product to date. He crosses CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) when Sculley pulls the plug on the unsuccessful Mac, ultimately resulting in the board firing him. And finally he rejects the paternity of Lisa, his illegitimate child with former flame Chrisann.

Aaron Sorkin’s three-act play structure of product launches can seem interminable. Projections on Apple sales or conversations about mean things Steve Jobs has done fill up a third of the screen time. Though framed to seem tense and urgent, they meander and become redundant. On two separate occasions, Wozniak berates Jobs for failing to acknowledge the Apple II team. The scenes feel reductive and Seth Rogen repeating “Apple II” over and over becomes tiresome.

The amount of exposition in this film is overkill. At times, it feels like a play where no character can leave the confines of the launch structure. This is not a bad idea; in fact it’s a novel one. Alejandro Iñárritu wowed us with this concept in last year’s Birdman.  The flaw with Steve Jobs, however, is that when the plot needs to relay history its fallback is often exposition. Relationships, like the one with Jobs and his daughter Lisa, don’t fully develop on screen and rely heavily on dialogue from other characters. Seeing as Lisa is needed as emotional bait for the big iMac finale, she deserved more screen time. Just hearing Hoffman and other characters telling Jobs he didn’t pay her tuition wasn’t enough to feel emotionally attached to Lisa’s plight and Job’s redemption.

Speaking of redemption, an interesting choice in this film is portraying Jobs as an unlikeable lead. Though a gutsy decision, he comes off a little storybook evil. This again detracts from the neatly packaged ending of Jobs and his iMac. It is confusing what the film is trying to convey about Jobs’ character as it spends three quarters of the film defiling him before ending on a hopeful note, with Lisa and Wozniak ready to forgive him. The film makes a bold statement about Jobs being unlikeable but then reneges at the last minute, not fully willing to commit to the house of cards they built.

A redemption for the film as a whole is Michael Fassbender. Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs is impressive and his likeness and mannerisms are spot on. Yet the material leaves him acting his heart out atop of a so-so script. The same can be said for Winslet, Rogen and Daniels. The cast is uniformly excellent, but it ultimately comes across as an overachiever’s talent competition in a wasteland.

Danny Boyle’s direction is another attempt at deliverance. He makes some really beautiful choices to illuminate the picture, most notably projecting the launch of a spaceship through a hallway to illustrate one of Job’s anecdotes. He also notably chooses to shoot the film with heavy grain throughout the 80s and 90s segments. Boyle does his best to add tinsel to a bare tree, but it isn’t enough to save the film.

Steve Jobs is ultimately forgettable. It’s another biopic to throw on the pile. We’ll talk about it until February because we have to, then we’ll plunk it on the shelf, and anxiously await which cultural icon Hollywood wants us to care about next.

Steve Jobs is released in the UK on November 13.