At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Steve Jobs “2015”

It’s hard to believe that in the span of two to three years, we as movie goers managed to receive three movies about celebrated Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The first was the Ashton Kutcher-starrer simply titled Jobs, the second was a documentary called Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, and the third is the Danny Boyle-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted, and Michael Fassbender-starring film that I am reviewing right now. Yet upon seeing this film I can safely say that out of all 3 this one is truly the Jobs film we not only wanted, but also the one we deserved to have of this truly iconic figure as well. This is because thanks to an amazing script by script God Aaron Sorkin, a talented cast, and a unique way of looking at the man and his legacy we are also treated to undoubtedly the best look we have seen at this iconic figure yet and in the process might even begin to see him in a light never thought possible: that of a gifted man who nevertheless was still a man plain and simple.

The plot is as follows: taking its narrative from not only the real people that were involved in Steve Jobs’ life, but also the book by journalist Walter Isaacson, this film is unique in that it shies away from a traditional, sequential approach to the legendary and truly one of a kind man’s backstory and career. Instead the film chooses to condense the action down to three acts that all consist of behind the scenes at product launches for the first Mac computer, the NeXT cube (following Jobs being ousted from Apple), and the iMac when Jobs got the chance to return to Apple respectively. Yet I feel that it should be said that this story isn’t just about Jobs. It’s also a story about Chrisann Brennan(Katherine Waterston), the mother of Jobs’ first child Lisa (played by multiple actresses who all do terrific work) whom he initially denies quite emphatically as his own flesh and blood, Joanna Hoffman (a brilliant Kate Winslet), Jobs’ closest confidante who finds herself heartbroken by Jobs’ actions and just general attitude towards his family and everyone around him, Steve Wozniak (an absolutely amazing Seth Rogen) the other co-founder of Apple who simply just wants Jobs to take him seriously and treat him with the respect he, rather correctly I might add, feels he not only deserves but has earned, and John Scully (a wonderful to watch as always Jeff Daniels), the former Apple CEO who became like a father-figure to Jobs only to later find himself at odds with him and eventually have no choice but to oust Steve from his own company. Thus by the time the movie ends what we are left with is a picture of a man who many may consider the “Da-Vinci of our time”, but who those who knew him best would describe as “complicated, complicated, complicated”

Now all of this drama plays out over the course of these three acts, which themselves act as musical movements in a larger ensemble piece, with Jobs even quite egotistically remarking in the film that “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.” Indeed this is magically developed through sound (which utilizes snippets of orchestral works — and Bob Dylan), imagery (musical stanzas are written in chalk on the walls in the film’s final act), and development and since one can argue that symphonies usually consist of four movements and not three then I guess one can argue that the second act of Steve Jobs can be broken down into two individual parts. Now the first movement typically introduces the themes that will play with each other throughout the larger piece as each of these characters and their baggage enter the picture in a similar manner, by fictional means or otherwise because after all, all of these people weren’t present at the same time during these three events. We then see things slow down a bit by the second act, which is typical of the second movement’s adagio tempo. This leads us to the third movement, aka for all you purists out there the second half of the second act, which breaks into a scherzo as we see Jobs dancing around Sculley and Hoffman as the tension crescendos to revelation. Then finally we get the final act or the final movement which becomes about redemption as all the players that we have gotten to know throughout come together to not only, in some cases make their peace but to settle a few scores as well and in the final scene, you can visibly see all the instruments furiously striking their strings through the chaotic flashes of the cameras from the audience and this is the final few measures of the piece, just waiting for a nod from the conductor to relay the last resounding note.

Now much like with classical music itself, this Steve Jobs film isn’t really truly for all audiences and there are 2 main reasons why. Firstly, this film really truly is an Aaron Sorkin-written film, filled with his signature wit and chunks of dialogue. Indeed while many writers and filmmakers bathe in dramatic silences, Sorkin does not and it’s clear that he wanted Michael Fassbender to portray Jobs as a Shakespearean character in a lot of ways because — and you can chalk this up to his ego — there are two obvious references to the playwright in the dialogue which those anti-Sorkin people out there will likely see this as a pat on the back for his own brilliance and even more so if the rumors are true, the script itself perhaps explains why some of the earlier names attached to this film, here’s looking at you David Fincher, Christian Bale, and Leonardo DiCaprio, ended up dropping out of the film since I have no doubt that the rehearsal process was equally demanding, as the actors had to come in with their lines entirely memorized to block all the scenes before rehearsing in front of cameras. Thus since it’s clearly not for every actor it’s a safe bet that it’s not for every audience either. Secondly, this is not the mainstream Jobs story some might be used to or were even expecting for that matter and at times, the dialogue gets a bit too technical for your average, non-Apple-enthusiast viewer, especially in heated scenes when Jobs is verbally bashing his lead developer “The Other Andy” Herzfeld (a wonderfully utilized Michael Stuhlbarg). This is a big deal for some people because unlike the Ashton Kutcher film, Steve Jobs doesn’t waste a beat explaining some of the lingo and also doesn’t go into further detail of this backstory as the story is about three contained moments in these characters’ lives. Indeed though each are strategically chosen to further develop the characters and their various arcs, they don’t always — and don’t need to — devolve into flashbacks or explanatory chunks of dialogue in order to explain things.

Now Michael Fassbender may not really, ok he just doesn’t really period, resemble Jobs in any physical way he still manages to succeed with his portrayal. This is because Fassbender manages to successfully embody Jobs’ drive, and his restlessness. Indeed Fassbender has never shied away from playing damaged or difficult characters see “Shame,” “12 Years a Slave,” and even the “X-Men” prequels as a young Magneto if you want examples. In this case however, he has the added challenge of playing a revered, real-life figure over the span of 14 years during which Jobs goes from long hair and bow tie to glasses and dad jeans. Indeed while Fassbender never flinches from the arrogant and repulsive elements of this man’s behavior there’s such an intensity to his presence and a directness in his eyes that make him not just compelling but commanding as well to the point that you realize that he doesn’t truly care whether you like him or not and it’s that kind of devil-may-care performance which makes for some really fantastic work. Also Kate Winslet does a fantastic job and even gets a couple of great speeches, which she delivers with convincing power, totally unsurprisingly and her exchanges with Fassbender are truly some of the film’s high points. Indeed they almost resemble a high-wire act as it’s a tricky thing making such dense dialogue sound effortless, but both actors manage to pull it off brilliantly. The big surprise though turns out to be Seth Rogen as Wozniak. This is because although Rogen is mostly known for his goofy comedy roots, the man can turn out one hell of a dramatic performance as well, and in the character of Wozniak, Rogen manages to do a wonderful job of showcasing the pain and the pride: both in what he was able to accomplish at Apple, but also in the fact that the friend he founded the company with won’t take even a minute to recognize the achievements of a team simply because he wasn’t in the room. Indeed this is truly next-level stuff from Rogen, and I hope we see more dramatic outings from in the future. Of course we can’t also forget about the dependable work done here by wonderful character actor Jeff Daniels who as John Sculley is absolutely electrifying. Indeed this is not the easiest character in the history of Steve Jobs’ life due to what went down between the two men, but Daniels does an outstanding job at showing us the humanity behind the man who started out as the closest thing Jobs ever had to a father-figure, but by the end was seen by many as the devil that nearly killed Apple.

All in all most of us, even those of us who are considered casual Apple enthusiasts, already have an image in our minds of who Jobs was. Trust me when I say that the most common two responses usually turn out to be either a genius tech tycoon or a controlling, egotistical, cocky bastard of a monster that few people saw. Indeed as Steve Jobs with a brilliant lead performance by Michael Fassbender depicts and reveals to us, it really was quite a little bit of both. Yet for a film that’s firmly two hours and two minutes, it does something even more amazing than showing us who Steve Jobs was: it also manages to give an electrifying look at a truly one of a kind man through an extremely well-cast and well-acted glimpse into his life and career and in the process humanize that very same man who millions — including himself— deified to some extent throughout his entire life. On a scale of 1-5 I give Steve Jobs “2015” a 4 out of 5