ADVANCE MOVIE REVIEW: Steve Jobs
"STEVE JOBS"-- 5 STARS
Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" opens with this exact Australian TV broadcast video interview of famed science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke projecting the future of computers and the idea of internet from 1974 to 2001, a year he famously earmarked as the writer of the Stanley Kubrick science fiction film classic "2001: A Space Odyssey." Three essential reactions come out of that archival video acting as this film's introduction. First, you have Clarke's incredibly prophetic words describing wondrous possibilities and applications that will come from the room-sized computers entering peoples' homes someday in console size. Second, you have a reporter forecasting as a father what technology lies before his own son standing next to him when he reaches the same age in 2001 as he is now in 1974. Lastly, this time capsule footage that houses an optimistic collision of the human condition and our parallel scientific advancement lets us know that we are watching a starkly unique film that is going to have a great deal to say about both sides of that parallel.
Steve Jobs, the man, saw where such a scientific evolution of computers and information could be molded and designed into something marketable and life-changing in the hands of everyone in society. History helps you realize that just two years after that Clarke interview, Jobs and Steve Woziak would create the Apple I in 1976 and follow that with the landmark Apple II in 1977. He experienced tremendous failure before finding success and there is power to seeing the ugly over the flashy.
"Steve Jobs," the film, peels back back that innovation to show the mountain of work, mistakes, complications, issues, and obstacles, both personal and professional, that stand in the way of progress being shared to the world. The film triumphs just as the pioneer himself as one of the most redemptive examples of hamartia in the history of the business world and popular culture. Without opening the curtain for a typical birth-to-death biography, "Steve Jobs" is a contemplative and riveting drama that will fascinate you to no end with its powerhouse performances and artistic savvy.
The film is directed by "Slumdog Millionaire" Oscar winner Danny Boyle and adapted from select chapters of Walter Isaacson's substantial and official 2011 biography. "Steve Jobs" is composed of a unique triptych structure. The film is comprised of three self-contained episodes that show critical development through the career of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Each act covers a real-time 30-40 minute time period backstage before three of Jobs' signature keynote speeches and product launches: 1984's debut of the Macintosh, 1988's failed launch bid of his NeXT computer, and his triumphant return to Apple in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac G3. Each piece has a prominent flashback to previous dealings and ends right after Jobs takes the stage for his pitches. In between each chapter lies a montage of archival audio and visual news footage reporting the business changes that occur between each jump.
Each segment shows the behind-the-scenes stress and strife colliding between life and business for these interconnected people. At the center is the titular entrepreneur played by "12 Years a Slave" Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender and the camera rarely leaves his presence. Academy Award winner Kate Winslet plays his long-suffering confidant and marketing manager Joanna Hoffman, steering him out of bad decisions and maintaining order. Jeff Daniels is John Sculley the former president of Pepsi-Cola and Apple's CEO from 1983 to 1993. Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlbarg play former partners and associates Steve Wozniak and Andy Hertzfeld, respectively, who both waver in their loyalty to follow Jobs down his wild path of ego. Jobs clashes with Hoffman, Sculley, Wozniak, and Hertzfeld on the business end while his own personal life is exposed through his estranged girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson of "Inherent Vice") and the daughter they share named Lisa (played by Perly Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Mackenzie Moss at different ages).
Each player gets their timely and poignant moment in each arch to stand with or against Jobs. The talented cast members swing ferociously for the fences every chance they get, none more so than Michael Fassbender. "Ashton who?" His caustic and impulsive lead performance scorches every pivotal scene. You can't believe or take your eyes off of the machinations of Fassbender in character and it's a thing of talent and tragic beauty. The "X-Men" and "Shame" star should be a shoe-in for a Best Actor nomination this coming Oscar season. Sign Rogen, Daniels, and Winslet up next as potential nominees in the supporting categories. All three nail their marks as remarkable foils to Fassbender.
The triptych format choice is a stroke of genius from director Danny Boyle and veteran Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network" and "Moneyball"). Operating at peak form employing a unison of Boyle's theatrical artistry and Sorkin's trademark rapid-fire, walk-and-talk dialogue techniques, it is utterly amazing how much history and allusion this film could pack into three isolated acts of "Steve Jobs." The question becomes the film's legitimacy more than its cogency.
How much of what we are watching is invented dramatization? Apparently a whole bunch is, but it doesn't matter, according to a pair of interviews with the real Steve Wozniak, one in print via Entertainment Weekly magazine and another on video with Bloomberg. That said, it does create the possibility that our feelings and reactions are subtly being manipulated for cinematic purposes and gains. Sorkin's streamlining pen has been known to do that from time to time. Along the same lines, it is too early to count the possible repetitive and well-documented "Sorkinisms," but no one could have harnessed the pace of Isaacson's episodes better than Sorkin. Hopefully the scintillating rants and burns are new material compared to those clever YouTube videos, but, if not, they are forgivable and work in spades to power this picture's impact.
Not as poetically fluid with its backstage crises as last year's Best Picture winner "Birdman," but just as fiery and kinetic, "Steve Jobs" chronicles soul-bearing small measures of the real man behind the public persona of genius. The blood feuds and many glorious shouting matches, backed by a stirring digital score from composer Daniel Pemberton ("The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), deliver one narrative bombshell after another. Using this three-act structure, the artistic result is nearly perfect. The film does not pull any punches in portraying the egotistical traits that drove Jobs's career in wayward directions until his talent was victoriously honed and respected. Superior to its peers in so many areas of technique and performance, "Steve Jobs" stands boldly as one of the finest films of 2015.
LESSON #1: THE DEFINITION OF HAMARTIA-- The term "hamartia" is a literary device that describes an error or flaw in a protagonist's personality that leads to his or her calamitous ruin. Until returning to Apple in 1996, Jobs had a series of business and personal failures all fueled by his enormous ego and the corresponding lack of flexibility to compromise his ingenuity. That mammoth, perfectionist pride made Steve Jobs more detestable than respectable for a time. He may have been right in the end, but it took a downfall that cost him position, status, respect, family, and friendships before his creative rebirth.
LESSON #2: HAVING AN INDIFFERENCE TO CRITICISM-- The less egotistical peers around Steve Jobs challenged him that a trailblazer and figurehead such as himself could be decent and gifted at the same time. The Steve Jobs portrayed here carried a strong indifference to criticism. Jobs fights to call out his challengers and maintains his unwavering plans rather than settle, bargain, or apologize. The cut of his perfectionist's edge created enemies and feuds. In his eyes, he was better than them and knew it. In his eyes, he was right and it just took the right product or pitch for everyone to see things his way.
LESSON #3: CONVEYING UNBOUNDED CREATIVITY-- Imagine being in Steve Jobs head. Most of the great geniuses and innovators of our times start as misunderstood ranters until they prove themselves or their ideas to be virtuous. You can't argue that the man didn't have ideas and wasn't ahead of his time. The challenge for Steve, thanks to that hamartia from Lesson #1 and the indifference in Lesson #2, was getting people to listen to his rhetoric, swallow his abrasive manner, and follow a creative genius at work. Steve needed a forum to convey his overflowing inventiveness and fierce drive. The amount of detail he personally put into his products and his pitches to communicate has become legendary.
LESSON #4: GRAVITATING TO FATHER-FIGURES IN THE ABSENCE OF A PARTICIPATING FATHER-- When you strip all of the business dealings, brains, and showmanship antics away, you're left with Steve Jobs, the man. One emotional thread throughout Boyle's film is Steve coming to grips with being a father to Lisa and her reactions to him. You see Steve's acceptance and treatment of Lisa and Chrisann change with each of the three chapters. The film also touches on his own adoptive past and the lack of a father-figure. In the absence of a participating father, children (both Lisa and Steve) will lean on outside sources for fatherly influence. Without a good example in his own life, Jobs didn't know how to be a father. He denied, dismissed, and bought his way out of the real job until he has to step up and change.