Sunday, November 29, 2015

STEVE JOBS (2015): Biopic of Ruthless Tech Giant

The protagonist in Steve Jobs is seemingly as unpleasant as any individual can be for someone not in prison.  For many years he attempts to deny paternity concerning his daughter Lisa  (played at differing ages by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine) and only grudgingly pays support after first publicly humiliating Lisa’s mother.  Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) fails to publicly acknowledge the debt he owes to his early partner, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and the designers behind the scene that make Apple Computers possible.  And he is extremely defensive about any information that may taint his professional reputation, and holds lasting grudges against any real or imagined slights.  Yet somehow his beleaguered assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) manages to hold onto her position during three product launches including the release of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXTcube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.  Hoffman only does so by sacrificing her entire personal life.

Frankly, certain movie reviews were more interesting than the film itself – though not necessarily for the right reasons.  Reviewer Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, for example, goes so far as to compare this film to a rendering of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Yet like the products that Steve Jobs launches, Hollywood will replace Steve Jobs with another biopic concerning some other technology mogul.  After all, we had a film biopic about Mark Zuckerberg just five years ago.

A.O. Scott, of the New York Times, does a better job than Turan of summing the film up.  While calling it a “less perfect movie” than The Social Network, Scott refers to Steve Jobs as “a more credible character study, and it leaves behind a fascinating residue of ambivalence.”  Yet even Scott can’t resist inflating the importance of this film.  He states in his review: “The accuracy of this portrait is not my concern. Cinematic biographies of the famous are not documentaries. They are allegories: narrative vessels into which meanings and morals are packed like raisins in an oatmeal cookie; modern, secular equivalents of medieval lives of the saints; cautionary tales and beacons of aspiration.”  While accuracy may not be his concern, it still needs to be a concern of film studios that may at some point face a libel suit for films like this.

Both reviewers, carried away by their willingness to make a point, speak in too great urgency about what is not a great film.  Unlike the film biopics of T.E. Lawence or George S. Patton, few movie viewers are going to want to see Steve Jobs a second time.  This movie has its faults.  Steve Jobs says little that is engaging about its lead character.  Also, the dialogue is almost too perfect to be believable with each insult and cutting remark leading into a culminating scene.  The roles played by Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels are barely even supporting parts.  And the movie, transparently directed by Danny Boyle as a three-act play, begins and ends in circular fashion concerning Jobs’ relationship with his daughter. 

Nevertheless, this is mostly an intelligent film (intelligence being a relative term whenever speaking about movies).  The attributes of the movie include the acting of Fassbender, Winslet, Moss, Sobo and Haney-Jardine.  Whatever else its faults, the dialogue, written by Aaron Sorkin, generally advances the story.  The seminars that Jobs leads help the audience understand his popularity, which is much like the popularity of a cult leader.  The ending of the film, at first seemingly to be on too much of an upbeat note, is suitably ambiguous leaving us with neither a happy or sad ending.  The 122-minute film is also a compelling critique of American success when it wonders aloud whether it’s possible in corporate culture to be “decent and gifted at the same time.”

November 29, 2015

© Robert S. Miller 2015