Steve Jobs is the second biopic about the Apple founder in the four years since his death. The first (simply Jobs) went unloved by critics and unwatched by fans, despite Ashton Kutcher’s irascible performance. Having made back just half of its budget since the opening weekend, this Aaron Sorkin vehicle seems destined to suffer the same fate. It’s perhaps unsurprising; one film is surely enough, lest audience exhaustion set in and people realise that – whisper it – the life of a CEO isn’t all that interesting. Despite the cultish devotion of Apple fanboys, the man basically just ran a computer company. He isn’t exactly Alan Turing.
It will be a shame, however, if this goes unseen, as Sorkin and director Danny Boyle have made a very watchable movie. The ingenious three-act structure, the characteristic Sorkin repartee, and the fact that it’s (almost) all shot indoors lend the film an atmosphere more theatrical than cinematic.
Michael Fassbender looks less like Jobs than Kutcher, but he’s as meticulous as ever, inhabiting magnificently every angry, obsessive twitch. We see him backstage at three Apple launches, in 1984, 1988, and 1998, each time embroiled in a crisis of both the personal and professional. At issue is his daughter’s parentage, disputed by no one but Jobs himself, who misses no opportunity to tell a five-year old that he’s not her father. The film moves to the standard Hollywood rhythm of the difficult genius, for whom interpersonal relations are secondary to creation or discovery. We are invited to see Jobs’ moral failings as symptomatic of his brilliance, and forgive him for them, the way we do Van Gogh, or Thomas Edison. The problem is that Jobs probably wasn’t an Edison, or a Tesla, or a Martin Luther King Jr., as Boyle implies in a ludicrous montage. It’s interesting that the biography the film is based on endows him with far grubbier flaws. There’s a story, for instance, of him parking astride two separate disabled parking spaces at Apple HQ – less the grand imperfections of a visionary, more the bitchy vengeance of the guy who’ll break your car windshield for looking at him funny.
It’s still well worth seeing, mainly for the Sorkin-tastic dialogue. If only he’d decided to be a bit harsher on his subject, as he was on Zuckerberg in The Social Network. It isn’t exactly a hagiography, but the awestruck techie genuflection leaves a slightly sour taste.
Image: Segagman; Flickr.com