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Film Review: “Steve Jobs”

October 20, 2015


Review of the new feature film about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs titled “Steve Jobs” by guest blogger, music and film critic Ron Wells. 

If one wants to learn about Steve Jobs it is probably best to read Walter Isaacson’s biography or see Alex Gibney’s documentary. That will give you a clearer picture of who the man actually was.

Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s film, Steve Jobs, does not pretend to be a definitive examination of the co-founder, chairman and chief executive of Apple, Inc. Rather, they have gone for something deeper and more profound.

In that sense, this film is almost Shakespearian in nature.

For example, you won’t learn everything about Julius Caesar or Richard III by seeing the plays about them, but you will learn something about the larger motivations, personalities, and flaws of those historical figures and those who surrounded them.

Shakespeare digs into the essence of famous men in order to give his audience a human connection to themselves. That is what this film also does, and Boyle, Sorkin and their brilliant ensemble cast have done this to near perfection. This impressionistic drama, seen here in essentially three acts, shows Jobs right before three product launches.

Michael Fassbinder is absolutely riveting capturing Jobs’ moods as his mind works like a machine on speed driving his workers endlessly to accomplish his utopian vision of the future. He is driven, ruthless, and obsessive in trying to get his computers to market, and thus change the world forever.

All the while, playing as a through line during the three launches, the viewers watch as Jobs denies his relationship with his daughter, Lisa, while at the same time prodding, arguing with, and pushing Apple execs and tech employees John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), and Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Always close by is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his marketing rep, who plays as a kind of Greek chorus in her attempts to keep Jobs grounded in some way as to what he is asking of those around him and the consequences of his actions. It is Hoffman who continually brings Lisa up in conversation and forces Jobs to confront the connection, or disconnection, to his daughter.

It is impossible to convey the power of Sorkin’s words and the brilliant methods that Boyle uses to frame these words through scenes that are constantly digging for an understanding of Jobs. When the actors speak there is a rhythm and poetry that is usually not heard coming from the silver screen and set in places that one might not associate with computers.

When Hoffman says, “What you make isn’t supposed to be the best part of you,” she gets to the core of Job’s humanity, or lack of it.

When everyone speaks of Jobs’ “reality distortion field,” the audience understands exactly what that means.

As Jobs visualizes Lisa in flashback hugging him, he simultaneously talks of computer chips and what may or may not work. When Jobs speaks of Alan Turing, the great British inventor who got almost no credit for creating the first computer, you can see what drives Jobs’s desire for recognition. When Sculley tries to pry information from Jobs about his being adopted, Jobs finally admits that with adoption you have no control. He needs that control in his life to the Nth degree.

Jobs wasn’t an engineer, nor one who could write computer code. He saw himself as the orchestra leader guiding his musicians. And yet, he finally admits: “I was poorly made.” It is a profound recognition for him, but one wonders if he truly believes it.

Many people will hate this film for not telling more about Steve Jobs or Apple, Inc, or even telling the whole truth about who he really was. Many will be bored by it. The rest of us will be left in utter awe of this dynamic cast, their director, and the brilliant vision of the screenwriter. Academy Award nominations will be forthcoming.

For what we are left understanding is that the essential connections we make—or don’t make—in our own lives are no different than those made by people who are more famous than us. In the end, as Shakespeare understood, it is our shared human propensity for good or bad—our humanness— that makes all of us potentially brilliant, supremely flawed, or a little of both. For better or for worse. Steve Jobs was a human being, with all that that entails. He was an imperfect man trying to orchestrate others to create his perfect computer, and imperfection always takes a toll, even on those who are extremely successful. Even on a genius.


For a fascinating analysis of Kate Winslet’s character Joanna Hoffman, read this article from The Atlantic: Steve Jobs and the Triumph of the Work Wife: Aaron Sorkin’s new film unwittingly reveals how male and female workplace relationships have changed for the better.

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