With “Steve Jobs,” his effortlessly brilliant portrait of the late Apple visionary, Aaron Sorkin once again upends the equation that points to the director as the most important creative force in a movie.
Oscar winner Danny Boyle directed “Jobs.” But it is Sorkin’s movie, as surely as “The Social Network” was his picture, or “A Few Good Men.” It wears the imprint of TV’s “West Wing,” the hallmarks of a genius dramatist conjuring up vivid characters, limiting the settings, stripping down the number of scenes to get at the essence of story.
And filling the air with words — pithy, pointed and revealing words. It begins with a bravura opening 15 minutes, a carefully modulated tirade in the middle of a mass panic attack — Apple launching The Macintosh just days after its “1984” commercial revolutionized TV advertising.
Jobs tears into engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) because the first Mac can’t say “Hello.” There’s a glitch and the mere minutes before the curtain rises aren’t time to make it work. Even Jobs’ long-suffering marketing director/conscience, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) can’t change his mind.
Hertzfeld — “You’re not hearing me.”
Jobs: “FIX it.”
Joanna: “Do you want to try being reasonable, see what it FEELS like?”
Within moments, we’ve forgotten that star Michael Fassbender looks nothing like the real Jobs. Sorkin puts Jobs on the couch, rewrites our images of his various key collaborators — Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) among them — and boils his life down to three key moments.
We’re backstage for the epic Macintosh launch, where Jobs’ “reality distortion field” made the impossible happen, where his cunning manipulation of his “visionary” image in the press came to full flower. Then, we’re backstage for the introduction of his serenely perfect “cube,” the NeXt computer. The market failure of Macintosh and Jobs’ ouster from Apple is skimmed over in a montage.
And then we’re there, again behind the curtain, for the introduction of the iMac, Jobs’ triumphant return to Apple and to the top.
At each event, Sorkin serves up Jobs’ key relationships — “The Woz,” his engineer-pal and conscience, a man he condescendingly calls “Rainman” behind his back. Rogen’s Wozniak — or should I say Sorkin’s — is less the cuddly music nut who started The Us Festival, not “Dancing with the Stars” Steve, but a persistent, assertive, nagging idealist in his own right, pushing for recognition of his less flashy Apple II team, which made the company great and kept it going in between disasters. Do it because “It’s the right thing to do.”
Jobs isn’t hearing it.
Winslet’s Hoffman is the one who keeps pushing the daughter he long-refused to recognize as his own onto him, at every one of these events. Jobs’ cruel, control-freak side cuts to the marrow in these scenes, sparring with his impoverished, manipulative baby-mama, Chrisann (Katherine Waterston, superb). His chill melts, only briefly, in the presence of his beguiling, curious little girl, Lisa, played by three actresses.
And Jeff Daniels brings wonderful, fatherly gravitas to John Sculley, the Pepsi CEO Jobs convinced to run Apple, whom Jobs blamed for his ouster, but who finds Jobs something of a case study in the “abandoned” adopted boy who so wants to be beloved that he wants every product with his imprint on it to be friendly, personable and perfect.
“Don’t play stupid,” he scolds Jobs. “You can’t pull it off.”
To a one, they try to humanize this boss/father/partner and prove you can make great things and not be a bad guy. And fail.
Sorkin slips in the Bob Dylan fixation, the push for “human” sized and shaped products. But if you want another trek through the decline and fall of Jobs, an account of his death from cancer, or even in-depth looks at the garage where he and Wozniak invented the future, other movies cover that.
If you want to check off the iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc., off your “Jobs’ Greatest Hits” list, get a sense of the salesman/tyrant, the ruthless zen master vegetarian too cruel to practice what he preached, to get other people’s definitive take on what made him tick, see the great documentarian Alex Gibney’s superior “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” It strips away the myth and icon and reveals Jobs for the hustler-huckster he was, just a smooth, smiling turtleneck, trying to sell us something. In many ways, his film makes all other Jobs movies unnecessary.
But Sorkin and Fassbender have given us a Jobs of human dimensions, a Jobs we can sink our teeth into, a Jobs we can understand. Boyle, to his credit, doesn’t allow directing flourishes to distract us from that. What we’re looking at here isn’t “Jobs: The Legend,” its a new legend and one that — however accurate — allows us to step back from the cult and the haircut and see the man as a man, flawed, driven, arrogant and yes, visionary.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg
Credits: Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the Walter Isaacson book, directed by Danny Boyle. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:02