By Hughes Ransom, News Dept. Staff/Anchor/Producer of The Pulse
Steve Jobs reaches all the goals it had set out for: a clear demonstration of the man behind Apple, exposition of Job’s work and family life, and dazzling presentation akin to the sleek, artistic model of his products. Directed by the Oscar-winning Danny Boyle, who is best known for his work on Slumdog Millionaire, the movie entertains you and baffles you with a nearly unanswerable question: is Steve Jobs a better man than his products? The movie attempts to answer this in a three-part plot, one in 1984, one in 1988, and the final in 1998, finally tying together plotlines involving his daughter Lisa, his prevalent egoism, and his relationship with lifelong friend Steve Wozniacki. And although the movie covers the development of Apple, I am not sure I agree with Fassbender’s Jobs when he says, “The two most significant events of the twentieth century: the Allies win and this.”
Admittedly, I am writing this review on a Macbook and I do own an iPhone, making Apple’s products directly impactful on my life, but I am not sure the movie itself lives up to that impact. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of the film, provides a fast-paced, poetic work that is lunged at you from the very beginning. These characters speak rapidly and artfully, with each conversation drawing you in as if it were an action scene. However, after being pumped full of speedy dialogue, the last lines almost always are sigh-inducing, with a few prime examples being “We will know soon if you are Leonardo DaVinci or just think you are,” and “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” No matter how good the dialogue may have been, these lines are what you remember, and it makes the movie seem like it is clamoring for dramatics.
Despite the cringe-worthy lines, there are few powerful lines of dialogue, usually coming toward the end of each sequence between Jobs and Wozniacki, played beautifully by Fassbender and Rogan respectively. For example, before the Macintosh presentation is about to be given, Wozniacki and Jobs are speaking in the pit of the San Francisco Orchestra, where he asks Jobs what the conductor does to which he replies, “He plays the orchestra.” Next, Wozniacki asks Jobs to give credit to the Apple II team, who had at the time been producing seventy percent of Apple’s income. Shortly thereafter, an argument erupts between them, leading to Wozniacki’s asking, “What do you do? You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail.” To which Jobs replies, “I play the orchestra.” This scene may come off as hackneyed to some, but I saw it as a wonderfully worded and unique way to show Job’s perspective of himself, using the orchestra metaphor to encapsulate his witticism and genius.
As essential as the dialogue to capturing Job’s essence were Boyle’s cinematic skill and progressive use of special effects. Boyle’s camerawork, much like Sorkin’s writing, is snappy and quick, almost dizzying you in so trying to absorb all the information being spewed. However, cinematography cannot end in cheesy lines, so I thoroughly enjoyed the various angles Boyle used to capture each emotion and nuance behind the lines. In one scene, Steve Jobs walks through a hallway to be greeted by his then ex-CEO, John Sculley, played by Jeff Daniels. Throughout their conversation, the screen flips between their conversation in an empty hall, filled with jumbled chairs stacked together, and a separate conversation in Job’s home, which has no furniture. This contrast would be obvious, but the scene happens so quickly that you only see tracers of each one, barely processing it and revealing a blurred form of Boyle’s general sentiment.
Boyle also succeeds in special effects, projecting an image of the Skylab satellite crash on the wall of a hallway in which Kate Winslet’s character is speaking with Jobs. Again, the metaphor drawn from the dialogue lessens the effect of the image, but I do think Boyle’s choice was a step-forward in the use of specials effects in a tame, speech-driven film.
Beyond the technical qualities of the film, the depiction of Steve Jobs and its effects on public view is possibly the part on which I am most ambivalent. In the movie, Steve Jobs is egotistic, determined, and irresponsible, much like he is in Walter Isaacson’s book about him and how he was while he was living. Steve Jobs is not an anti-hero in this film; he is mainly a villain. Boyle chose to open up the film addressing how Jobs handled the situation with his daughter Lisa, and he was not depicted well. This was Boyle saying that this movie was not going to be a blind praise of Jobs that seems to be the consensus today. Steve Jobs finds a way to blend both his superior marketing acumen and his lack of empathy toward those whom he is supposed to love most.
The most important aspect, however, is how the film will affect public opinion on Jobs, which in my experience has been ultimately positive, with older people fawning over his genius and younger people admiring his place in counterculture and his direct effect on their lives. I have mixed feelings on the matter because I do not think the film fully committed to his arrogance, spending much time on giving it sheen of genius and productivity. When insisting that the exit signs be turned off for his presentation, he comments, “If a fire causes a stampede to the unmarked exits, it’ll have been well worth it for those who survive.” For any other public figure, this would seem a heinous disregard for life that would draw immediate criticism, but in the movie it is said through pensive eyes that are too focused on their vision to care. Boyle is justifying a poor-spirited statement with an ineffectual image, and I think that is counterintuitive to his original view of Jobs.
All in all, Steve Jobs meets expectations in nearly every category with great acting, great cinematography, and a punchy storyline. My main qualms reside in how this film portrays Jobs and some especially corny lines, but those are minor things that will not stop me from recommending this film. The film accommodates all kinds of viewers: those looking for a simple, enjoyable film and those looking to delve into the mind of Steve Jobs. Either way, I recommend this film strongly and am interested to see how others think of it as well.