I am not an Apple fanboy. Yes, I have been the satisfied purchaser of three iPods, and I even used a Macintosh SE at work way back in 1987, but I have no intention of ever queueing up to buy the latest iPhone. So, when I decided to review the latest film about Apple founder Steve Jobs, I went into the cinema with the same feeling of indifference that I have for the company’s products.
Director Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) has said that STEVE JOBS is not a biopic. Rather, the film looks at the consumer technology icon (played by Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE) at three pivotal stages in his career – the launch of the Macintosh, the launch of the NeXT computer and the launch of the iMac. All of these occasions brought with them a host of other issues including the computer being named by Time magazine as “Machine of the Year”, his very public shaming of the mother of his illegitimate daughter, his gambit to get back into Apple after he was fired following the commercial failure of the Macintosh, and his success at turning the company around once he returned.
Written by Golden Globe® winner Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK and TV’s THE WEST WING) and based on the 2011 biography by Walter Isaacson, STEVE JOBS crackles with literate and snappy dialogue. The story is framed in three, roughly 40-minute acts, with most of the action taking place backstage minutes before each product launch. A few flashbacks along the way fill in contextual and historical gaps, including the time when Jobs lured John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, THE MARTIAN) away from Pepsico or when Jobs and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, THE INTERVIEW), were building the first Apple computers in his parents’ garage in Los Altos.
Interestingly, Jobs wasn’t a computer guy the way Wozniak was. He was a visionary and a marketer… and he was driven to succeed. According to the film, Jobs he saw himself as an orchestra leader and that may very well be true. He surrounded himself with the world’s best engineers and designers, and drove them to make the products that people didn’t know they wanted until they had them. Often, though, that drive led to casualties, and his lack of concern over who got stomped on along the way made him few friends. Some people, however, did stick with him through thick and thin including his marketing chief, Joanna Hoffman (Golden Globe® winner Kate Winslet), and “Software Wizard”, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg, A SERIOUS MAN). Hoffman, apparently, twice won the company award for being “the person who did the best job of standing up to Jobs”. Even Wozniak had enough of Jobs’ singlemindedness by the time the iMac was launched and the two parted ways.
STEVE JOBS is an all-round, solid piece of filmmaking but so what? Since he died in 2011, we’ve had three feature films (this one being the fourth), four documentaries, four biographies, three graphic novels and one memoir. For most of us non-groupies, it’s more than enough. That’s probably why the film has not done so well at the box office, earning high praise from critics but few dollars – just US$27 million worldwide since its release last October. Perhaps there needs to be some distance where we can look at our wearable (or even embedded) devices and reflect on Jobs’ influence that got us to that point. Then make a movie.
For right now though, STEVE JOBS is a good bit of entertainment. However, it will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in early February so you may just want to be unlike all the loyal Apple fanboys and fangirls out there, and wait a few weeks.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 37:00.)
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