Steve Jobs was a revolutionary man. Like Alan Turing he was years ahead of his time. Also like Alan Turing he was not so good in the people department. Steve Jobs the motion picture can’t emphasize this point enough. While constantly surrounded by staff and the family he doesn’t want, the film portrays Jobs (Michael Fassbender) as emotionally isolated – a state in which he is quite comfortable. As a biography I suppose Steve Jobs offers a snapshot, but as an entertaining cinematic adventure there are a few crucial parts missing. Here’s the thing: it is a rare moment when a movie with such high acclaim comes along that I indisputably hate so very much.
I feel like too much attention was focused on the concept of this film and not enough paid to the story outside the dialogue. Steve Jobs operates (non-ironically?) like a closed system: we have one setting and a stagnant list of individually introduced cast members. Everyone gets a private chance to be yelled at by Steve. Steve Jobs begins in 1984 with Jobs publicly launching his pride and joy: the Macintosh. His daughter (Makenzie Moss) (a debatable relation) shows up with her mother (Katherine Waterston) (an undeniable sob story) and everyone argues. Jobs then leaves his dressing room to demand the impossible from his employees and shut down old friends, including Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Jobs’ Macintosh launch then proceeds as scheduled. Jump to 1988. Jobs is in a new theatre presenting a new product. He argues with his daughter (Ripley Sobo) (now a slightly less debatable relation) and her mother (still a sad violin if ever there was one) backstage before setting loose the hounds of frustration on his long-suffering staff. Jobs then launches his new product. Jump to 1998. We’re in a new theatre. You can see where I’m going with this. What are the statistical odds that the worst moments of one man’s life consistently occur not only in a theatre but right before he delivers the biggest presentations of his life?
Because the setting never changes, the film feels stuck. Time passes obviously, thanks to what-year-is-it updates and Jobs’ upgrade from a white shirt to a black turtleneck. But in terms of the characters’ personal growth we could be moving from a bad Monday to a worse Tuesday. Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is the only character who demonstrates maturity and dynamic range. She saves this movie. Steve Jobs is 95% dialogue – and hard-hitting dialogue at that. The only thing that distinguishes one angry outburst from the next is Joanna’s reaction to them. She is the airlock to Jobs’ wind tunnel of fury and nearsightedness. She naturally responds to the moments which should trigger Jobs’ sensitive side rather than his hate-o-meter. If Jobs had a magic 8 ball to steer him into the world it would be named Joanna Hoffman.
Hoffman not only advises Jobs on how to be a good employer (and a decent human being), but also how to be a father. Jobs’ relationship with his daughter is evidence that, deep down, he’s not a total ogre. Every other relationship in Jobs’ tight circle, however, labels him as a controlling, secretive, vengeful asshat who generally hates people. Maybe this is accurate, maybe it’s Hollywood. I hesitate to say that this film is a good representation of the real Steve Jobs’ life because we hardly see anything of him outside of the backstage confrontations. We don’t really get a solid impression from more than one angle. In some shots it’s hard to get a good physical impression too. The zoom button on the camera was held slightly too firmly and the frame held slightly too left of centre – like the director set the scene with one eye closed.
From one argument to the next, Steve Jobs gives us nothing but anger and dehumanization. It’s fine to yell it out in a movie – that’s what the drama category is for. But don’t put a literal timer on every heated conversation, sending Hoffman into the room with a stopwatch to give Jobs his 5-minute warning. It’s like tough-talk speed dating. But the best thing about having all of these life-altering arguments backstage? We never get to see if they affect his public presentations. The scene always cuts out right before Jobs delivers his pitch. It’s hard to say if Steve Jobs is a proportional representation of its namesake’s life because we only get a peep-hole view of it. Steve Jobs is like Birdman but with more yelling, fewer hallucinations, and no inspiring climax. It’s a monotone, wordy, furious 3/10.