Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jobs Done

This past weekend, I went to see Steve Jobs, the new biopic about the Apple co-founder. This movie, a greatly condensed and rearranged version of the same-titled book by Walter Isaacson, examines the minutes before three major product launch presentations from throughout Jobs' career.

The film adaptation was written by Aaron Sorkin, and this inevitably drives you to compare this movie with The Social Network. (A movie I should note has risen a fair amount in my esteem since I first blogged that review.) Both movies tell the story of unpersonable geniuses in the field of computers. Both are true stories clearly layered with fiction, particularly that trademark rapid-fire dialogue that is Sorkin's signature. Both were helmed by directors you wouldn't typically think of for this sort of dialogue-centric drama. (David Fincher for The Social Network; Danny Boyle here.)

In this comparison, Steve Jobs doesn't come out as well. First, and foundationally, it's not as great a piece of writing. The Social Network seemed to add up to something, a sort of statement on blind ambition and its cost. Steve Jobs doesn't seem to saying much of anything, hardly even about its subject, much less in general. It can't even be said to be a solid "warts and all" approach to the man, as the film almost relentlessly presents him at his worst, largely scooping out the "and all" part of the story.

Danny Boyle's directing and editing feels less polished than David Fincher's on The Social Network. The script has the feeling of a three-act play, suggesting that long takes might have been an appropriate way of drawing the audience into the story. Instead, Steve Jobs employs a lot of unnecessary cutting. In particular, the way a few brief flashbacks are handled feels particularly cumbersome.

But one place Steve Jobs has the edge on The Social Network is in the acting. Not to cast too many stones at that cast (which was perfect for the movie), but Steve Jobs is loaded with some seriously talented performers. Michael Fassbender commands attention as the title character. He manages to make a lot of inherently pretentious dialogue seem less so (or, short of that, he at least makes you believe that his character would speak that way). Jeff Daniels (coming over from Aaron Sorkin's recently ended television series, The Newsroom) is excellent as John Sculley, the most fiery of the supporting characters in the film. Seth Rogen is wonderful as Steve Wozniak (and calls to mind another comedic actor who excelled at Sorkin drama: Jonah Hill in Moneyball). Best of all is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, vanishing into a carefully built personality and accent. She could well be a contender for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. This top-lining quartet, and many other actors whose names aren't as recognizable, make the dialogue sing and the movie fun to watch.

But ultimately, Steve Jobs doesn't stay with you very long after the closing credits. It's fine enough, though certainly could be enjoyed at home rather than at the theater. I give it a B.

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