Danny Boyle’s latest film, “Steve Jobs,” occurs in an explicit three-act structure. The film focuses on the failures of Jobs (portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as a father, friend and human being. In Boyle’s eyes, occurred tangentially to three of his largest product launches—those of the Apple Macintosh, NeXT computer and iMac.
In the first act, we see a young Jobs in 1984, just before the unveiling of the Apple Macintosh. Portrayed as a megalomaniac, Jobs is unforgiving. He threatens his coworkers, gives a fake demo and refuses to acknowledge the five-year-old Lisa as his biological daughter, pointing to an algorithm (which he created) that asserts that 28% of American men could be her father. The Macintosh is a commercial failure, and Jobs is ousted from his post at Apple.
The second act depicts Jobs unveiling the NeXT computer in 1988. This time, he knows that it will be a failure, but he reveals to marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) that he plans to build an operating system for the computer that Apple will be forced to buy. He is confronted by John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the then-CEO of Apple. Sculley—in a large, empty room—questions Jobs’ belief that he directly fired Jobs.
The third act depicts the unveiling of the iMac in 1998. Jobs argues with Lisa after he withholds her tuition for Harvard; adding to his anger, Lisa’s mother, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) has sold her childhood home, and engineer Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) reveals to Jobs that he has paid Lisa’s tuition.
Don’t go into “Jobs” expecting to learn the long, complete arc of a life. Better suited for that task is his biography written by Walter Isaacson. His biography, which flawed, covers a wider range of Jobs’ life, with entire sections devoted to the early stages of his life and deeply personal interviews conducted before Jobs’ death.
Boyle’s film doesn’t aim to present Jobs’ life in its entirety, but its title alone is misleading.
Michael Fassbender succeeds throughout the film, and Kate Winslet is even better still. Her performance will surely garner a number of nominations in the oncoming awards circuit.
Aaron Sorkin’s writing is sharp, though it is no different from the writing in any other one of his projects—“The West Wing,” “The Newsroom” or “A Few Good Men.”
However, “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s spectacular 2010 film, which was written by Sorkin, is possibly worth mentioning in the same sentence as “Steve Jobs.”
The two films present complex portraits of men widely regarded as geniuses—Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. But, where the former succeeds and the latter trips, I believe, is in their ability to distill the power of cinema in the films’ scenes. Fincher understands, in “The Social Network,” the power of the filmic world. Boyle, however, hints at this power in shots that can be characterized in the “sublime”; such as the particularly graceful one that shows rain falling outside of a boardroom as Jobs learns that he has been ousted from the company that he helped found.
But, these moments are also depicted in the trailer of “Steve Jobs,” and are possibly more effective there than in the film itself. That’s a real shame.
Schaffer is a member of
the class of 2016.