Directed by Danny Boyle; script by Aaron Sorkin; book by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs was the Michael J. Lindell of computers, as we all know. His genius in driving the industry changes, turbulence and geek revo is celebrated in some 6 films, including an unreleased documentary (Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine, 2015), and a recent one starring the attractive but spice-free Ashton Kutcher—Jobs, directed by Joshua Stern (2013).
This film, which excerpts just three incidents of the protean and largely unpleasant complexity called Steve Jobs, deals with the launch of three Apple products, over a span of 15 years.
It is thus three highly schematized snapshots, and not a fully fleshed out hagiograph of the man who fascinated us with his oddities, vaunted brilliance -- and concomitant brittle personal interaction in business and private life.
Michael Fassbinder, a spectacular if not-yet-iconic-name in the Hollywood firmament (Shame, 2011; Inglourious Basterds, 2009; Prometheus, 2012), is outstanding in the eponymous role. He dares to be unlikable through the entire film, yet the steely grip he wields on the audience is electrifying. He is helped along by the remarkable and nuanced talents of a now-brunette Kate Winslet as his “work wife” (playing Joanna Hoffman ) for decades -- who manages a slight but impactful Polish accent that blew me away, as she stood up to Jobs’s hammer of a personality; by a dead serious Seth Rogen, who seethes with resentment at the treatment he receives as Woz (Steve Wozniac, his partner in the start-up garage creation); John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels, who appears also in a similar role in The Martian); and sundry other top performers.
We are backstage at all three launches, watching Fassbinder/Jobs threaten, excoriate and grind his people down to fine dust as he demands the impossible, within an immovable time-frame. Only Joanna/Winslet stood up to him. She boasts to Jobs, en route to stage, that she was voted toughest resister of his fierce lack of people skills, “three years in a row” by his far-flung staffers and experts in the computer-verse. The digital revolution is rocketed to the country, and the world, as this semi-portrait paints a fascinating partial picture of this amazing man. Adopted, he never felt loved, and his lack of self worth (spoiler alert: Cheap mini-analysis ahead) drove his shocking rejection of his daughter, Lisa (one of several children, only one of which is seen and participant in this cabbage wedge of his life) and his coarse maltreatment of virtually everyone he knew, even those he liked. This unfinished symphony of clashes and conflicts was carefully chosen, of course, to highlight the peaks of those years, but leaves out much that is equally valid and equally involving.
The film ends in 1998 with the intro of the iMac, more than 10 years before the end of Jobs. The writing is a celebration-worthy feast of clever. Sorkin is a master of rapid-fire, coruscating dialogue, as was seen in many seasons of The West Wing -- even if one grew irked at Sorkin’s constant pro-partisan Dem skew. There’s no denying the pleasure one derives, just listening to this wave after wave of cascading witticism, historical nugget brews, chewy news caramels and character-disclosing volcanic eruptions by all.
True, not everyone loves the film for this. My companion found all the full-frontal geek mulligatawny confusing and off-putting. Those in the market who followed the escalator highs and lows of the digital offerings will be in their comfort zone. Others, average movie goers, might not have a clue as to what all the ferment and agonized recriminations are about. There are longueurs, especially if you are not particularly enthralled by geek grousing and culture.
No matter: It is great filmmaking. Great writing. Recklessly impressive acting choices. And a glittering, thorny crown of actor jewels to savor for the two hours we eavesdrop on this tormented, terrific, arrogant tornado of a personality at the epicenter of the revolution we are all swimming in.