Steve Jobs (2015) (R)

"Steve Jobs" is not a movie without a history. The movie's preliminary line-up looked nothing like the movie that is being shown now. It was a different production company, a different lead actor, and a different director. The movie passed hands when David Fincher left—and the prospect of a repetition of "The Social Network" excitement of having Fincher work with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin again was lost—and then lead star Christian Bale exited the project. The film floundered in limbo for a when Sony ditched the project until Universal picked it up and ran with it, gaining an all-star cast with flashy director (and one of my favorites) Danny Boyle at the helm.
I think the history is useful for the movie because it exemplifies two things: 1) Aaron Sorkin remains constant and 2) companies come and go. This possible betrayal of allegiances can be seen coating every frame of the film as the movie's protagonist fumbles with companies too cowardly to understand his 'heroic vision'.
"Steve Jobs" attempts to correct a lot of what "Jobs" did wrong. Ashton Kutcher may have tried to revitalize his career with the movie, but he failed to prove anything beyond what we knew: it was going to suck. With the newest, more colorful version of the story, Aaron Sorkin returns to what he does best, people walking down hallways. The "West Wing" feel of the movie is impossible to shake, especially considering the male-on-male emotional shouting that occurs in the movie's most climactic and frenziedly edited scene in which Steve Job argues with Apple CEO Sculley....but more on that later.
The movie's theater occurs not-so ironically in theaters. The film takes place over three distinct time periods, each at the unveiling of Jobs' newest innovation, two of which fall flat. There is the sense of anticipation as the movie moves theaters from 1984 to 1988 to 1998 and the audience's knowledge of Steve Jobs is expected. I cannot shake the fact that I'm writing this on a Mac and the implications thereof are not lost on me; but Sorkin throws many subtleties into the film as part of his homage to Walter Isaacson's book on which the movie is based. I've read Steve Jobs and I think I'm better off for it because the movie, much like parts of the book, is much less interested in Jobs as the technological and innovative figure that he was and more interested with him as a father to a child he may have never wanted.
Sorkin bumbles into this father and daughter theme with as much grace as "Interstellar" did, which is to say none. Both movies feature strong screenwriters being overly sentimental for no apparent reason and it makes for awkward viewing because you're keenly aware that you are watching a movie during these moments.
Perhaps the movie's contained feeling (maybe an attempt to generate a claustrophobia) is where it suffers, because the theater setting of the movie reminds us that we are watching performances of performances, though Sorkin's script doesn't deserve that level of nuance...he's a pretty loud writer and he knows it.
Michael Fassbender inhabits the iconic role with as much grace and force as one could hope. He's a really great actor and he's opposed by Kate Winslet's Joanna Hoffman. I'm not saying Winslet is bad, but her accent ranges from American to British to Italian and I'm not sure what to make of it. The surprise performance of the movie is Seth Roger as Steve Wozniak who not only looks a great deal like his real-life counterpart, but manages to pull a lot of emotion from scenes that felt stiff and unnecessary.
The movie takes great pains to show Steve Jobs as a fractured protagonist. Someone who's got a lot going on in their life and it is never presumptuous enough to try to justify those things...until the last scene. If the movie could erase its ending ten minutes, it would be that much better off. A shaved ending would leave the audience with all the right markers to make their own decision about the man but it seems like Sorkin was scared (after having upset Mark Zuckerberg along with countless others) and had to end on a happy note, with Steve Jobs really quickly making amends and rising to success at the launch of iMac in 1998.
The performances here are good and the direction is fine but lacking Boyle's usual flair. You can see it in rare glimpses of a beauty that could have been a wildly entertaining movie when projections of words fill up the blank space of a page or a speech turns into images projected on a wall behind the characters. It's all theater in some fashion, but the digital manipulation is much missed and needed. This could be attributed to Anthony Dod Mantle's missing presence as Boyle's usual cinematographer. With his absence, the movie feels like that one weaker episode of a great TV show.
The scene that dazzles the most also shows the immature of both the script and the direction. Sculley (a likable Jeff Daniels) and Jobs are screaming at each other about publicity and the act of a martyr and suddenly multiple scenes get cut into one. Flashbacks randomly jump into dialogue as a four way conversation with past and present selves begin. It's flashy, fun, and a lot of the shouting gets lost in screams of heightened emotions. It's wonderfully entertaining and pointless. It's about generating that emotion, which for me, worked...but I'm an easily emotionally manipulated person so that's not saying a lot.
In the end, I think I enjoyed it because the references to SuperBowl commercials and computing systems named LISA were familiar to me. The movie's final scene is grossly unneeded and reaffirms Steve Jobs as a hero and not a man, which the whole movie was trying to contradict. Danny Boyle's influence is fun, wacky, and very, very Sorkin. It's a frightening fast-paced movie that does little to let its more potent moments sink in. Great acting, good execution, but lacking a maturity and an actual climax.
The movie seems more interested in paralleling its own production history, which passed from hands to hands and made some people upset than crafting a movie about Steve Jobs. With this in mind, Sorkin's script is less than original, though I certainly enjoyed him trying.

Score: ★★½

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