Movie Review: Steve Jobs
By Ben Gruchow
October 29, 2015
Steve Jobs is a film made of unceasing movement and crisis; that it creates this impression under the appearance of urgency and tension is pretty remarkable, considering that the entire thing more or less takes place over three extended dialogue scenes - each of them prior to a big product launch, each product with its own hype and promise and potential. In formatting their story this way, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle have created something like the purest distillation of the traditional biographical film (it is literally nothing but a collection of three anecdotes) while neatly sidestepping most of the arbitrary rhythm that a film in the genre is obliged to dance by.
Sorkin is a gifted writer, good with dialogue scenes exchanged by two or more participants at rapid pace, even better when the dialogue is involved or technical and he doesn’t feel the need to contextualize or break down the specifics for the audience. His films are like celebrations of intelligence and articulation; if they also sometimes come off like implicit celebrations of arrogance, maybe that’s an inseparable part of the package. This movie is right in his wheelhouse. Steve Jobs was a notoriously arrogant man, and I have a feeling that there were a few people in the industry who pivoted to assessing him as a genius because they realized they weren’t getting any traction or closure by identifying character flaws.
In this movie, Steve Wozniak (played by Seth Rogen) tells Jobs, “You can’t write code. You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. What do you do?” Jobs replies, “I play the orchestra.” This moment, spoken during the first scene, sets the wavelength for the rest of the movie, dealing eloquently with the fact that Jobs revolutionized major segments of the computing industry largely through the power of branding and emotional appeal, while others built and designed the products themselves. This isn’t to suggest that Jobs’ role wasn’t crucial or any less significant, just more pragmatic. The movie puts this in the open, acknowledges it, and then moves on to try and answer, in its own way, why Jobs was right where he should have been.
Jobs himself is played by Michael Fassbender, and his work here reminds me of Frank Langella as President Nixon in 2008’s excellent Frost/Nixon. Fassbender bears little if any physical resemblance to Jobs; certainly, it’s not a patch on Ashton Kutcher’s unsettlingly accurate impersonation from 2013’s Jobs. Yet it’s a masterful performance; like Langella, Fassbender is intent upon channeling the essence of Jobs rather than the look. We see him at odds with others (seemingly everyone, at some points) and witness the cost of his compulsion to look at the big picture, and we see a mercilessly intelligent, arrogant, and yet deeply confused individual. This, the movie tells us, is Steve Jobs, and we believe it.
I’ve always thought that the big dichotomy with the real-life Jobs was the warring philosophy behind his products - between the drive to deliver hardware and software as an emotional statement that could and would be used by anyone and everyone, and the decisive assertion that the consumer had no idea what they wanted until they were told what they wanted (the unspoken conclusion on this sentence being “told what they wanted, by himself”). This movie is laser-focused on that dichotomy, and it’s where Sorkin’s instinct for dialogue serves the movie best.