The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Review: Steve Jobs (UK Cert 15)

When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was lauded as a genius, the man who revolutionised home computing, a pioneer, a visionary. Even before he passed, his name was one everyone knew. There was a lacklustre (and unofficial) biopic movie released in 2013 starring Ashton Kutcher but this one is based on the official biography by Walter Isaacson, adapted for screen by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle.

The film focuses on three points within Jobs' profession career: the 1984 launch of the Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the NeXT and the 1998 launch of the iMac. Immediately before each launch, we see Jobs preparing to give his trademark speeches, pushing his programmers to deliver the goods, dealing with his Head of Marketing and trying to interact with the girl whom the courts declared to be his daughter (although he initially did not acknowledge her as such).

Michael Fassbender pulls off an amazing balancing act of getting you to admire Jobs whilst simultaneously wanting to punch him in the face. If this is what Jobs was really like, it's amazing that he ever got anyone to work for him: he's a complete control freak, an out-and-out ruthless bastard, a Machiavellian gameplayer, a supremely arrogant, condescending, egotistical bully- and yet utterly charismatic at the same time. There has to be something more there, otherwise he'd never have inspired such loyalty as you see in his Head of Marketing, Joanna Hoffman (who stayed with him for this entire period, even when he was out in the cold from Apple). 

Hoffman is played by Kate Winslet, who affects an Eastern European lilt to play the Polish-born Hoffman. She is the voice of reason, Jobs' anchor, his confidante and 'work wife' who deals with his demands with unflappable equanimity. Winslet's performance is strong, trading verbal spars with Fassbender and being one of the few who can stand up to him. Seth Rogen puts in a decent dramatic turn as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, pushing Jobs to acknowledge the team who worked on the Apple II in his newer endeavours. There are scenes between Wozniak and Jobs which have a real dramatic punch, especially the one where Wozniak tells Jobs 'you can be decent and gifted at the same time'.

Not all performances are as good as others, however, with Katherine Waterston's shrill and overbearing performance as Chrisann Brennan (the mother of Jobs' daughter Lisa) being particularly grating. I get that the character is supposed to come across as a bit flaky and annoying- trying to get Jobs to accept his paternal responsibilities when he still questions his paternity- but it's the one wrong note in an otherwise solid cast.

Sorkin's script is, as you would expect, tight and quick with lots of staccato punchy dialogue and flashbacks within the scenes. It's very play-like, the dialogue could easily lend itself to a stage adaptation. However, the script never really gets behind the spiky exterior- although it does attempt a last-minute redemption job with his relationship with Lisa which just about works. Do you really get to know more about Jobs the man? A little. For instance, I didn't know that he was adopted and I didn't know he had a daughter. So you get to know more about his biography (for want of a better word). But the psychology doesn't run very deep- the film implies that a lot of Jobs' controlling personality came down to the fact that he was adopted, which is mentioned a lot- and he remains relatively inscrutable.

This is certainly a superior movie to the Ashton Kutcher one and the performances- especially those of Fassbender, Winslet and Rogen- are very strong. However, I think you'd have to have a specific interest in Jobs to really enjoy it.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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