This is, what, the third or fourth Steve Jobs movie to come out since his death? Obviously, with a combo-pack of Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, and its all-star cast, it’s the only one with any momentum or potential, and has all the ingredients needed to set itself up as a major awards contender, because, as we’ve seen time and time again, big names matter so much more to the Academy than actual cinematic quality.
The Plot: Computer-guy Steve Jobs (now confusingly sexy computer-guy Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender)) clashes with his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his CEO/father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his top programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), his formidable assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), and his ex/mother-of-maybe-his-kid Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), engaging in several high-strung, eleventh-hour, desperately dramatic confrontations immediately before the 1984 unveiling of the first Macintosh computer. The same exact things happen over the decades immediately—and dramatically—before the release of the NEXT computer and the iMac. And they named it Steve Jobs, squirrelling away the Oscar for least creative movie title.
Steve Jobs would win that award, and fittingly. Not only is the title entirely devoid of creativity, but so is most of the film, I’m sorry to say. Danny Boyle’s direction ranges from competent to bland, without any of the ingenuity and cleverness of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later…, and Slumdog Millionaire that made him such a star in the first place. It could be that he just wanted to match the aesthetics of Apple computers: sterile, colorless, and emotionally inaccessible.
As I said, though, Boyle’s direction is, at best and at worst, inoffensive. Aaron Sorkin, who will doubtlessly receive another Oscar nomination for this screenplay, if not a win, must claim the greatest responsibility. His script spends about a hundred minutes hovering in what I like to call “Mamet Limbo,” tirelessly scrambling from one group of men shouting at each other to another group of men shouting at each other with a cataclysmic but ultimately powerless character revelation lurking around every corner, before abruptly and ruinously devolving into incoherent sentimental dribble in the last ten minutes (a move which, I should mention, is distinctly un-Mamet). Most of Steve Jobs, on a plot and dialogue level, feels like The Social Network 2, so much of it is vaguely entertaining to watch, although completely empty. It’s sort of like watching an Avengers movie aimed squarely at patrons of The New Yorker.
I must at least say that the cast all perform admirably. They try so hard that at times a spectator might forget that he’s watching a movie about cardboard. Michael Fassbender plays Jobs a bit like a Bond villain, with plenty of charisma but very little depth. Now, this is a man whose Macbeth I just lauded last week as being probably the best I’ve ever seen; this is a man who outshone an all-star cast as the only non-human character in Prometheus; this is a man who brought depth and complexity to a slave owner a couple of years ago. I have never criticized him for a shallow performance, but if a screenplay designates you as a soulless bastard, there’s only so much you can do. The supporting cast is strong, but mostly overshadowed by their oppressively loud dialogue. Kate Winslet shouts the least out of everyone and, as a result of that, affords the greatest opportunity to act. Everyone I mentioned in the plot synopsis has distinguished themselves as a top-notch performer, but Sorkin nearly suffocates them with his boring, lazy screenplay.
I don’t know much about Steve Jobs, I’m not a huge fan of Apple computers, and I don’t much appreciate the idolatry surrounding him, but I do think there’s something ethically wrong with this movie. Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ family, and several others have criticized the film for its wanton inaccuracies and pointless dramatizations, which is exactly what happened with The Social Network. In that case, Sorkin defended himself by saying that he was never trying to capture reality, but just wanted to tell a story like any other, and was simply using reality as a convenient basis for that. And for some reason he seemed to think that it was totally okay to make stuff up—unflattering, borderline slanderous stuff—about real people, and an Academy Award doubtlessly only reaffirmed his suspicions. But come on. Maybe Steve Jobs was an asshole, but if you can’t find any real, well-documented events to back up this claim, you probably shouldn’t just make stuff up. He tries to cover his ass in this case by dressing up Jobs as a reprehensible power-crazed monster for a hundred minutes only to grant him a complete, unearned, uncharacteristic change of heart at the end. That was the sloppy, sentimental dribble I mentioned before. Spoiler alert, I guess.
I didn’t hate Steve Jobs while I was watching it. Like I said, it is mostly fun to watch. If any of the cast gets Oscar nominations, I wouldn’t complain, although Fassbender would be better nominated for Macbeth. Ultimately, I can’t recommend this movie to anyone.