AARON SORKIN (“MONEYBALL” “The Social Network” “Charlie Wilson’s War”) and Danny Boyle (“127 Hours” “Slumdog Millionaire” “Trainspotting”) have teamed up to give us a juicily entertaining and rivetingly engaging movie: “Steve Jobs”. The arc of Steve Jobs’ trajectory is cleverly mapped out through three high octane, thrillingly scripted vignettes… that center around the launch of Jobs’ three iconic creations: the Mackintosh, the Next computer and his triumphant reentry into the company that had fired him, the i-Mac.
Michael Fassbender’s Jobs is spellbindingly watchable… probably his best role yet (and for an actor of his calibre, that’s a big deal). The Jobs we meet is driven, ruthless, blindingly self-centered and mainly downright nasty. Boyle uses the dramas of the launches to suggest a symbiotic relationship between Jobs’ unstinting and merciless attention to detail, to absolute flawless perfection and the unquestioning reverence of his smitten followers. One thing leds to another. He also shows us that this adored messiah is one who, in private, is mainly loathed by his intimidated employees; and who, despite his vast riches, consistently tries to disown his own daughter.
The perfectionist messiah is the far from perfect human.
Like the initial Apple 2, which he also tried to disown, Lisa, Jobs’ precocious daughter (played nicely by multiple actors, Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Solo and Perla Haney-Jardine) was the result of a past liaison. And Jobs, living in a world ten years hence, has no time for the past. It’s as though, for him, the present doesn’t really exist: is only a stage to be gotten through. (There’s a lovely moment when, at the moment of the launch of the i-Mac, he boasts to his daughter, lumbered with the then groundbreaking Walkman, “I’m going to put five hundred, a thousand songs in your pocket”…even then the i-Pod was in his brain)
The point is, perhaps in the world of computing (of business) the past really is irrelevant… You’re only as good as tomorrow’s ‘next big thing’. But in the world of human relations, the past (your family) is part of who you are…your lifeline, your link to a more vital dimension of your real worth; and not something you can simply walk away from.
But really this could be seen as Steve Jobs and his ‘circle’. It’s not a one-man show. Fassbender is matched step for step by an outstanding Kate Winslet as Johanna Hoffman – his most trusted confidant and the only person with the balls to stand up to him. Winslet’s Hoffman speaking in a slightly clipped Polish/Brooklyn accent is the solid, slightly dowdy conscience to Jobs, (in what is also her best and definitely Oscar-worthy role to date; she’s becoming ‘this generation’s’ Meryl Streep). The acting master class is rounded off by a very believable Seth Rogen as the bypassed, loyal, pissed off co-inventor of personal computing, Steve Wozniac (referred to as Woz, as if he too were just another expression of the past).
Jeff Daniels is saddled with the unenviable role as the patsy in the ‘circle’: John Scully, the high flying Pepsi executive marketing guru who Jobs brought in to run the company and who, managing by the numbers, near ruins the company even as he orchestrates the dismissal of his former mentor.
He is the anti-Jobs: boring, conciliatory, board-appeasing, research- besotted and without a shred of Jobs’ visionary, creative energy. In a telling confrontation between them, Scully just doesn’t ‘get’ Jobs’ (and ad genius, Lee Clow’s) groundbreaking ad, “1984”. And if you can’t ‘get’ great advertising, a pox upon your houses!
The movie emphasizes (and exaggerates) the pedestrian banality of Scully in order to pull off a wonderful sleight of hand: despite the no-holds barred ‘expose’ of someone you really wouldn’t want to be around: a domineering, unfeeling, inhuman Jobs, you simply can’t help but admire him. His personality simply grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Who’d you rather lead the world into the future the movie seems to ask: the bookish Scully or the brilliant Jobs? The pedestrian and balanced administrator or the passionate and ruthless artist? For even as Jobs/Fassbender rails and rants at lesser mortals, there’s no question that you’re in the presence of greatness. Here’s someone who will go to any lengths to ensure that his groundbreaking invention doesn’t just compute, but says “Hello”
For what Danny Boyle seems to be suggesting is that Steve Jobs was no mere super-talented computer geek (we have Bill Gates to answer to that one). He was the obsessed, passionate, revolutionary artist. Wozniac was the one building a new type of computer, Jobs was the one trying to change how the world functioned, how people communicated. The dialogue between them continuously revolves around this pretty fundamental dichotomy in world-views: between the computer as a tool and the computer as a means of almost spiritual self expression.
Like any great artist, Jobs taught the world how to “think different”.
And like any great artist, it’s the art you judge, not the man.
STEVE JOBS; dir: Danny Boyle. Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin and Walter Isaacson. With Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels. Composer: Daniel Pemberton. Cinematographer: Alwin Kucher