was a horrible boss and a problematic parent. Even by his own admission, Steve
Jobs’ greatest talent was for using people. Yet, probably no other corporate
executive ever enjoyed such an intense popular following. He has become iconic
through his celebrated product launches, which in retrospect, were just as effective
crafting Jobs’ image as they were at introducing new Apple products.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin starts with the familiar image of Jobs the showman,
but pulls back the curtain to show all the personal and professional chaos roiling
in his wake throughout Danny Boyle’s Steve
the Centerpiece selection of the 53rd New York Film Festival.
turns out Ridley Scott has two films at this year’s festival. In addition to
the sneak peak of The Martian, we will
also see his celebrated 1984 Apple commercial
heralding the coming of the Macintosh personal computer, in its entirety. It
has just caused a sensation airing during the Super Bowl and it duly whips Jobs’
audience into a frenzy. However, the backstage vibe is hardly one of
triumphalism. We quickly learn technical problems threaten to sabotage the Mac’s
unveiling, but when informed of the glitches, Jobs is his usual motivating
be fair, he is under a great deal of pressure. He has had a rough time of it in
the press recently, thanks in large part to Chrisann Brennan, the high school
girlfriend who recently won the paternity suit she filed against him. She is
also present, with Lisa, the daughter he still refuses to recognize in tow,
hoping to secure greater financial support. At least the new Apple CEO John
Sculley has his back, right?
and Sorkin then flashforward to 1988. Ousted by Apple, Jobs is about to launch
the first cube-like personal computers of his new venture, NeXT. Jobs needs to
make a perfect pitch, because the word on the street is spectacularly bad. Yet,
he seems to have a secret ace up his sleeve, which both encourages and irks his
loyal marketing director, Joanna Hoffman. Once again, like Scrooge on Christmas
Eve, Jobs is visited backstage by ghosts from his, including Sculley and Apple
co-founder Steve Wozniak, as well as Lisa and Chrisann Brennan.
pattern will repeat again in 1998. Through a combination of luck and guile,
Jobs returned to Apple just in time to right the sinking ship. He is about to
introduce the iMac, sparking one of the greatest corporate comeback stories in
business history. However, the indulgent Hoffman finally puts her foot down,
insisting Jobs man-up and set straight his messy personal life.
no screenwriter has as many annoying hang-ups as Sorkin, but his triptych take
on Walter Isaacson’s biography is kind of inspired. He literally takes the
image of Jobs the pitchman that we have in our mind’s eye and turns it inside
out. While everything in the film is constructed around the three big media events,
we never actually see them happen. After all, they are just elaborately orchestrated
hype sessions. The real drama Jobs cannot control—and it clearly vexes him.
he is hardly the spitting image of Jobs, Michael Fassbender connects with the
arrogant, insecure, borderline Asperger’s essence of the man. It is a cold,
clammy performance, yet we can see how Jobs maintained such Svengali-like
control over everyone in his orbit. His emotional detachment makes everyone
crave his approval even more. This probably goes without saying, but he puts
Ashton Kutcher to shame.
Steve Jobs the film deserves to be in
the running for every best ensemble award because it is fully loaded with rich
supporting turns, starting with the selflessly glammed-down and spot-on Kate
Winslet as Hoffman. She lives up to Hoffman’s reputation as the only Apple
employee who could stand up to Jobs. Getting serious, Seth Rogen aches with
geeky dignity as Wozniak. Working as a battery of Lisa Brennans, Makenzie Moss,
Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine all withstand Fassbender’s withering Mephistophelean
presence, each developing some intriguing chemistry with his Jobs. You might expect
these sequences to be hopelessly manipulative, but they are quite the contrary
(at least until late in the third act).
probably nobody does as much to rebuild their characters’ reputations as Jeff
Daniels, who elevates Sculley’s stature to tragic levels nearly commensurate
with that of Jobs. Again, their ruptured surrogate father and son relationship
might sound like cheap armchair psychiatry, but the restraint of Daniels’
performance and the sharpness of Sorkin’s writing makes it work relatively
Given its structure, Steve Jobs could easily be reconfigured into a stage production,
but Boyle’s dynamic visual flair prevents it from ever feeling stagey. While it
is light years removed from hagiography, it is still rather hard to fathom why
current Apple CEO Tim Cook felt compelled to engage Sorkin in the press. Despite
the character flaws it so deliberately establishes, the film is ultimately quite
forgiving of Jobs. Smart and bracingly honest, it is the best shake the Apple
co-founder has had from the cinematic world since Noah Wylie played him in the
TNT movie Pirates of Silicon Valley,
but Boyle incorporates it in a much more stylish and sophisticated package.
Recommended for old school Mac partisans and Fassbender fans, Steve Jobs opens this Friday (10/9)
after playing to packed houses as the Centerpiece of the 2015 NYFF.
Labels: Danny Boyle, Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender, NYFF '15, Steve Jobs