Friday, November 20, 2015

REVIEW: "Steve Jobs" (2015)

According to the meticulous, compelling and complicated 2011 biography by author Walter Isaacson, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs played a significant role in seven major industries: personal computers, animated films, music, phones, tablet computing, digital publishing, and retail stores. The latest film, from director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Newsroom), chronicles only three major product launches in the former industry, as well as the career of a highly-esteemed and equally-reviled man. The launches include the Macintosh in 1984 (a year before Jobs was ousted from Apple), NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998 (following Jobs' return to Apple a year prior).

Because this is more of a dramatization than a straight biopic, Sorkin uses these three product launches as three separate one-acts (30-40 minutes each), focusing on the behind-the-scenes action, as well as the relationships and conflicts between Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his colleagues/employees. The film also focuses on his brilliant but complicated personality and worldview, and how it affected the things that he did as well as the people around him. His relationship with his daughter Lisa (played at different ages by Mckenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine, respectfully) is portrayed significantly. (When Isaacson interviewed Jobs for the 2011 biography, one of Jobs’ regrets was the way he handled ex-girlfriend Christann Brennan’s [played by Katherine Waterson in the film] pregnancy, as well as his refusal to accept responsibility as the biological father.)

Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet),
and Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) backstage at 1984's Macintosh launch.
Other key players in this representation include assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), one of the rare people who put up with or could get through to Jobs in his career and life; former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), who ousted Jobs from Apple in 1985; co-founder and engineer Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who demands acknowledgement from Jobs for what made the company in the first place; engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Just as he did with The Social Network (2010), Sorkin presents people/characters who have helped create our modern world today with phases of products that interest people, as well as the personal costs in doing so.

Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) tries to get straight with Jobs at 1988's NeXT launch.
Technologically, each segment was shot in three different mediums. The first segment (1984’s Macintosh) was shot in 16mm film; the second (NeXT), on 35mm film; and the third (iMac), on digital, each illustrating the advancements in Apple technology over the course of two decades portrayed in the film. This structure, along with the story, also gives a very cinematic take on Jobs' apparent rise, fall, and rise again—with creative licensing, to be sure. (Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has accused the film of being “opportunistic”.) The fact that the film opens with archival footage of Arthur C. Clarke (author of "2001: A Space Odyssey") provides a glimpse of the earliest computers, and possibly an influence on Jobs' career. There are Shakespearean undertones and themes, including pride, power, egotism, alienation, and betrayal (e.g., Julius Caesar), as well as references to Bob Dylan music (whom Jobs was a huge fan of in real life), the 1984 Macintosh ad, Apple's "Think Different" ads of the late 90s, and the subtle transition from the computer age to the Internet boom.

Jobs (Fassbender) in his trademark wardrobe at 1998's iMac launch.
Simply put, the film is brilliantly-acted (with Fassbender capturing the spirit and personality of Jobs), written and well-made. Just don’t buy into the “reality distortion field” that this version of Jobs’ life is the only version. Isaacson’s book is so much more detailed and compelling. 

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