Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Speaks Reviews: Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs


To the Power of Three

★★★ out of ★★★★

A Speaks Movie Review

Listen: I use Apple products as if there is nothing else. But I have no interest in the man Steve Jobs. I do have interest in anything Aaron Sorkin writes. I don't care much for Danny Boyle as a filmmaker. With these sorts of divides, I would imagine I was a bit of a tough audience for this film.

Having said that, I liked the new film Steve Jobs, based on the biography by Walter Isaacson, a man who also tackled Einstein and Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger.

I most certainly didn't love it.


I take that back. I loved one part of it, and then I just loved parts of it. I loved all the performances and the balls-to-the-wall rhythm and harsh humor of Sorkin's dialogue. But the structure of this thing is tight, even for Sorkin, a man known for tight scripting. It's too tight here. And it makes a final product that is just nowhere near a great movie.

Set in three distinct time periods around three product launches (the Mac in 1984, the NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998) and run in real time, each segment running between 30 and 40 minutes, Steve Jobs is a screenplay that seemingly allows for directorial touches only in broad strokes. The only thing Danny Boyle really brings is a stylistic choice in the look of a film, with each segment shot on a different format. He also brings out some good performances. All of the principal parts are perfectly cast and even more perfectly executed. I don't see enough of Boyle as a stylist here, something of which he is easily capable.


The first segment is far and away the best the film has to offer. It is plain genius-level brilliant. Shot in grainy 16mm, it plays at breakneck speed with dialogue so sharp and witty and fast, it's hard to even keep up. Michael Fassbender plays the title character with an energy rarely seen. It is a fascinating performance from a man who resembles the real-life Jobs, who died in 2011, in really not a single way but who embodies his spirit with true passion. As the story begins, the stage is being set for the launch of Jobs first real baby, the "closed end-to-end" personal computer called Macintosh. The idea was to create a machine that could be fully controlled by Apple in a time when personal computer users were geeks who wanted to customize and build and add-on. It's no secret that Jobs truly saw into the future here. Nobody else would catch up with this idea until he comes back around again with the iMac in 1998. But I digress...

It's 1984 and several problems ensue at the annual Apple stockholders meeting, where the Mac will be introduced. Jobs' PR aficionado and personal assistant, Joanna (Kate Winslet) is the messenger. A Time Magazine cover is a cause for concern.  Software engineer, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) can't get the Mac to say "Hello." Steve "Woz" Wozniak (Seth Rogen) wants a nod in the presentation. He is, after all, the brains behind Apple II, the companies most successful product. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) has to express his congratulations (a bit prematurely). And, then, on top of all the madness, there's Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), a former girlfriend of Steve's with a five-year-old named Lisa. Steve is adamant that she is not his daughter.

All of this plays clearly with great energy and is an absolute joy. But what happens after is the biggest letdown. The same rotation is run through again...and then one more time. Each act sort of weakening and slowing as it goes to the point where, when we get to the final segment, it is almost at a dead standstill. The same conversations are still happening, the gaps in time explained with a dialogue of exposition, and, save a couple of incredible scenes here and there, there is just not much to grab onto, let alone be impressed with.


Every interaction in the first act works. Fassbender and Winslet. Fassbender and Rogen. Fassbender and Daniels. Fassbender and Waterston. Pure excellence on the page from Sorkin. Pure execution from Boyle and the actors. But even these interactions weaken a bit as it goes on. The only two that really flow through the whole movie are the Winslet character and the Rogen character. There is something in each segment that really works with those characters. Daniels has a good run through the second but diminishes to nothing by the end. In fact, he factors into the films single greatest sequence. But this movie is just not as good as the sum of its parts.

The worst thing about this chopped-up structure is how it tries to force this relationship between Steve and his daughter. It's touching here and there and there is some great dialogue about song lyrics and music. But there just isn't enough time within the time constraints to truly make the audience feel what it wants us to feel.

I haven't read Isaacson's biography, but I know it doesn't take this structure and probably really gets at the heart of the man. Sorkin's script is flashy and fun but so tight there is no room for compassion or empathy or even understanding. Maybe in the hands of a David Fincher, this would've been reworked into something a bit more fluid. He, of course, directed Sorkin's Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network and created what I feel to be the best movie of the current decade.

Sorkin took a gamble here and tried something interesting. It may have even paid off for some. Not me. I left wanting. Which is far from where I started. 

14 comments:

  1. I get what you mean about the scenes with the daughter. If anything, you can barely get a feel for Jobs' personal life in this. You wouldn't even know that he was married with three kids by the last segment. I liked this film too, though my biggest gripe was that it didn't feel like a Danny Boyle film. Only small parts of it did. The rest was all Sorkin. (Whose writing I love, ego aside. But still)

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    1. I honestly feel like Boyle or somebody should've reigned Sorkin in a bit and made him let go of this structure. It didn't work for me at all. That dialogue though!

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  2. Great review. I'm looking forward to seeing this, if only to get the horrible taste of the other Jobs movie out of my mouth.

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    1. Yeah. I never saw that one because Ashton Kutcher makes me hate the world. Thanks, man.

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  3. If there is ever a biography made of my life, Sorkin better write it. It would seem so much more interesting.

    That being said, I'm certainly going to walk into this one with middling expectations. Basically, I'm here for the return of Mama Bear (aka, Kate Goddess Winslet).

    Great review!

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    1. Kate's good here, bro. Really good as always. Thanks.

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  4. I think Steve Jobs is definitely the best film of 2015 so far. The acting is top-notch, & I hope Fassbender, Rogen, & Winslet get Oscar nods for their performances in this film (I especially hope that Fassbender wins the Oscar). The screenplay from Aaron Sorkin is amazing (as always). The direction from Danny Boyle is great, although I agree with you that David Fincher would've been a better fit for the film (I heard he was going to direct it, but he dropped out). Fincher would've made the film even better than it already was. I love David Fincher. He's an excellent director, & bringing Fincher & Sorkin together again for a film would've been amazing, as they were both spectacular working on The Social Network together. Danny Boyle is a good filmmaker, but he's put me off with some of his films. Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 127 Hours, & Steve Jobs are his best films. His worst film was definitely Slumdog Millionaire. But, I started out loving this film, & as the movie went on, I loved it even more. It also made me more interested in Steve Jobs. I should definitely read the biography of him by Walter Isaacson.

    Also, I agree with you on the part at the beginning of your review. I use Apple products like there is nothing else in the world, as well. I promised myself a long time ago that I would never buy a Samsung Galaxy phone. Long live the iPhone!

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    1. I think we are opposites on this one. This movie got worse and worse as it went on for me. Not Danny Boyle's fault but Sorkin's for making it too tight in structure to offer any emotion or thought at all really. You should see Bridge of Spies or Ex Machina. Those are my top two of the year right now.

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  5. I remember reading about the film's structure and going "what?" - it sounds like something that could really hurt the performances and flow of the film and with that its emotional impact. It seems that pretty much everyone is admiring the film but are far from loving it because of that lack of impact. I'm sure Fassbender is great but this somewhat lukewarm response is such good news for DiCaprio.

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    1. Yeah. I actually thought this structure sounded cool. It failed though and made for a very uneven film, emotionally. Fassbender will be on the ballot come Oscar time. No doubt. It's a perfect performance. But I'm for Leo always and forever. I don't even care if the movie's good or not. Give that dude a fucking statue already and be done with it. Right? Lol.

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  6. I think that the structure really did kill this movie, and it left me wanting as well. That aside, there were some positives in there, especially the acting. I think that all of the acting was great, especially Kate Winslet, but even Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels, and of course Michael Fassbender can play a great asshole. The flashback scenes, like the argument scene, were really good.

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    1. I agree. That's something I left out...the flashback scenes. All of those were really well placed.

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  7. Sounds good. I see your point about the structure, anxious to see it soon myself.
    Great review!

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    1. Sorry so long for a response here. Hope it works better for you. It seems some love it, others don't.

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