After braving the line that rapidly materialized in front of the Somerville Theater for the free screening of Steve Jobs, I went into the movie without any expectations. I had been looking forward to a great screenplay (written by Aaron Sorkin), as well as some eye-candy courtesy of Michael Fassbender. I was certainly not let down by the latter (phew), but I had mixed feelings about the film as a whole.
Aaron Sorkin was not joking when he said he said this movie wouldn’t be another biopic. The movie opens with Jobs preparing for the 1984 unveiling of the first Macintosh computer, and subsequently portrays Jobs’s persona through two more unveilings of new products: the NeXt computer in 1988 and finally the iMac in 1998. The nature of this creative plot structure mirrors the frenetic, anxious spirit that Sorkin and director Danny Boyle portray via the whip-lash fast walk-and-talk dialogue that Sorkin is famous for. Stylistically, I think this choice to center the plot around these three unveilings was compelling. It captures the brilliant-egotist essence of Jobs at different moments in his professional life, simultaneously weaving in the battered relationship he had with his daughter, as well as old friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak — all the while obeying the boundaries of such a unique form.
On the other hand, the repetition of the product-launch form felt a bit monotonous toward the end. Because the energy of the unveilings operated with such a frantic, anxious tone, there were only a handful of moments where the energy level relaxed. By keeping the level of emotional excitement so high for so long, the tone got a bit tiresome.
The film certainly boasts a fantastic cast — aside from Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels gave standout performances. The film honed in on only a few characters, such as Jobs’s assistant Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Apple co-founder and long-time friend of Jobs Steve Wozniak (Rogen), Apple CEO John Sculley (Daniels) and Jobs’s daughter Lisa at ages 5, 9, and 11. I think the focus on a few people surrounding Jobs was very well done, and it made for a deeper understanding of Jobs’s persona because the details of each relationship could be parsed out and examined very closely.
Additionally, the emphasis on few people close to Jobs adds to one’s understanding of Jobs himself — someone who is constantly plagued by uncertainty, combating it with unbounded manipulation. A major thread that runs throughout Steve Jobs is the competition for the next best thing, hastened movement toward both innovation and domination. Combined with the hurried dialogue and jump from scene to scene, each character brings out an element of Jobs that conveys this idea, each revealing the same end-game: a multifaceted Jobs.
Sorkin’s fast-paced dialogue was the perfect match for director Danny Boyle’s style; Boyle, a passionate storyteller, approaches direction with a zeal for emotional intensity. This dynamic blend paints a stirring portrait of Jobs as a narcissistic genius, and this sentiment is due in part to the film’s high-powered scenes. There are moments when the over-emphasized dramatic quality is warranted, such as when Jobs and Wozniak have a screaming match in front of the company, or when Jobs argues with his daughter’s mother regarding her finances.
On the contrary, some scenes are much too melodramatic, appearing overdone at times. There’s the episode in which Jobs fights with the board to keep his position–it’s late at night and the characters seem overly haggard and fraught as Jobs feuds with Sculley over the future of the company. Outside the window of the boardroom, rain is pouring down angrily and the over exaggeration of the scene belabors the point. I’m torn because the intensity of scenes like this, as well as the last frame of the movie, is one component that gives Jobs the heightened sense of being that is present in virtually every aspect of the film. Meanwhile, at times the theatrics were too overwhelming and I found it hard to be attentive for the duration of the film.
All in all, Steve Jobs is original and tightly focused. The mastery of Boyle and Sorkin capture an undeniably content narcissist jockeying for a place at the top in the world of technology.