Steve Jobs, the movie? Not so bad. Steve Jobs, the man? Not so nice.
My assessment of the new high-budget, Oscar-bait film penned by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) is rather like my own love/hate relationship with my iPhone. Yes, it informs and entertains me, but I increasingly rue its very existence.
I didn't believe for a moment that Sorkin's Steve Jobs had really existed any more than I believe there was a real U.S. President Josiah Bartlett (Sorkin's The West Wing), or a journalist could propel a cable news network to fame through long-form investigative reporting (The Newsroom, also from Sorkin). By now, audiences are well-familiar with (and apparently can't get enough of) Sorkin's walking-and-talking screenplays, which portend urgency but rarely result in people actually doing much of anything. Sorkin is one of his generation's best writers, but he also has the nasty habit of showing off his verbosity. Spencer Tracy used to have a brilliant piece of advice for fellow actors: "Never let them catch you at it." For me, that goes double for writers. Sorry Mr. Sorkin, but you've been nabbed.
Sorkin has most assuredly already sent his tux to the dry cleaner, as his screenplay will be a favored nominee at the 2016 Oscars (he already picked up a statuette for The Social Network in 2010). The real achievement in Steve Jobs, and the only aspect of the film worthy of the Motion Picture Academy's attention, is the combined performances of Michael Fassbender in the title role and Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, one of the founding members of Jobs' empire. However, Winslet's Hoffman quickly joins the list of Sorkin's other female characters—C.J. Craig in The West Wing, MacKenzie McHale in The Newsroom, Bonnie Bach in Charlie Wilson's War—that serve as conduits of conscience but merely on the sidelines.
Kudos to director Boyle, particularly with his technical choices in showcasing the three distinct acts of Steve Jobs—the film feels more like a play on multiple occasions.
Boyle uses 16-millimeter film to shoot the opening third of the film, when Jobs unveils the first Macintosh in 1984. Next, he uses 35mm film to shoot Jobs' 1988 introduction of the NeXT computer. Finally, Boyle uses digital wizardry to shoot the third and final scenes, in which Jobs introduces the iMac in 1998.
Boyle's expert framing of Steve Jobs should have been reason enough for me to recommend you pay full admission to see this Oscar contender. Alas, I was left stone cold by Sorkin's psychoanalysis.
Yes, Steve Jobs (the movie) can be occasionally interesting but, like the iPhone, it's spiritually devoid and rather flat.