Friday, October 23, 2015

STEVE JOBS: An Intensely Talky Character Study In 3 Acts

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2015)

s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and director Danny Boyle have stressed repeatedly, this highly anticipated portrait of the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs isn’t a biopic - it’s an intensely talky character study told in three acts, each set backstage at crucial product launches in Jobs’ career.

The first third is set in 1984, at the launch for the original Macintosh at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California. We meet Jobs (Michael Fassbender in his sharpest performance yet and with a flawless American accent to boot) fretting over making the computer say “hello” to introduce itself when turned on for the presentation.

In snappy, witty dialogue largely delivered within walks and talks – a very familiar Sorkin device – Jobs argues with key Mac engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his trusted marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) over the issue.

Hertzfeld protests: ““We're not a pit-crew at Daytona, this can’t be fixed in seconds.”

“You don’t have seconds – you had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time,” Jobs responds.

“Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it,” Hertzfeld replies through a smirk.

Yep, there’s that Sorkin snap!

Floating in and out of Jobs’ orbit are Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, who needles Jobs about how they used real skin-heads in the famous “1984” Apple television commercial; Seth Rogen as Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, who wants Jobs to give credit to the Apple II computer team in his speech; and most importantly Katherine Waterson as Jobs’ ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, and her five-year-old daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss), whose paternity Jobs denies.

These interactions take us up until Jobs is introduced onstage, then the film transitions to the man and his team preparing for the launch of the NeXT computer system at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. This time our genius is worried that the dimensions are off on what’s supposed to be a perfect cube of a computer.

As he makes the rounds through the facility, Jobs argues with the same folks - Sculley, Woz, Brennan - but he’s beginning to bond with his daughter, played at age 9 by Ripley Sobo, so there’s some significant development there.

The concluding third of the film concerns the launch event for the iMac in 1998 at the same venue as the ’84 Macintosh, and yet again we see Jobs go through the tangled motions with his minions (no, not those Minions!). Perla Haney-Jardine fills the shoes of his daughter at 19, who, of course, gets to finally connect with her father.

There’s some patented Sorkin character cutesiness present in such moments as Jobs telling his Walkman carrying daughter that he’s going to put “a thousand songs in your pocket” (the iPod, duh!), and when Wozniak and Jobs bicker over a Beatles analogy (“I’m tired of being Ringo when I know I was John,” Woz complains), but overall it’s a meticulously sculpted screenplay that’s a shoo-in for a Oscar nomination. I prefer Sorkin's script for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but this is in the same lofty class.

As some scenes are strained and some beats are repetitive, STEVE JOBS falls just short of greatness, much like the man himself as these three spotlighted products were financial failures, but its strengths which lie in the delightfully punchy performances by Fassbender and everyone in the cast (seriously, there is no weak link in this ensemble), the volumes of perfectly on point one-liners, and Boyle’s inspired stylistic choices like using different film formats for each era (’84 in 16mm, ’88 in 35mm, and ’98 in digital) elevate it into a series of speculated conversations well worth cinematically eavesdropping on.

Jobs was a visionary, but, yeah, he could also be bit of a dick. Boyle, Sorkin, and Fassbender’s take on the man is that he was well aware of that, but it couldn’t be helped because “there is no off position on the genius switch,” as David Letterman would say.

More later...

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