This Danny Boyle biopic (trailer), with a screenplay by the rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin, may not be to everyone’s taste, but I left the theater feeling both emotionally wrung out and strangely energized. Jobs was a complicated man, a visionary regarding the gestalt of the digital world and the devices we use to interact with it. He was not a genius engineer or a software developer, and he was totally unsentimental (and unsympathetic) toward company products past their prime and the employees who worked on them. He never threw anyone a sop, or agreed with them just to get along. As a result, the movie delivers, as Village Voice reviewer Nick Schager says, “a blistering barrage of combative dialog.”
The decision to focus this movie around three product launches—rather than the endless quotidian details that led up to them—was, I think, brilliant. Emotions were at their peak, expectations were highest, and the parameters of success or failure clearest. No case of the dwindles here. The first launch—of the Macintosh—came shortly after the revolutionary 1984 Super Bowl spot and the audience arrived pumped with expectations. The Mac was overpriced and failed miserably, and Jobs lost his job. The second launch from Jobs’s new company—the NeXT—was another flop. And the third, the 1998 introduction of the iMac? Well, the third time’s the charm. Yes, he was impossibly demanding and ruthlessly critical, but would another personality, making subtle compromises all along the line have achieved as much?
I did not read Walter Isaacson’s eponymous 2011 biography, so was left with some questions about the balance of information presented. It would be obviously impossible to condense all the arguments, recriminations, and flashbacks we see on film into the final few minutes before a product launch—there wouldn’t be time—but that was cinematic license. What I couldn’t assess was whether his daughter Lisa was actually such a significant part of his life, though I understand the filmmakers’ impulse to humanize him through his interactions with her; nor do I know whether Joanna Hoffman was really his conscience over such a long period of time. If so, I bow down in respect to her. The credits do indicate license was taken in fictionalizing some characters and events.
Despite overall positive reviews—Variety calls it “strikingly literate” and “a brilliant film,” the movie is not doing well at the box office. Perhaps this is because the main character isn’t seen as “likeable”—in direct contrast to the Tom Hanks character in Bridge of Spies, reviewed here yesterday. Perhaps Michael Fassbender is not yet a bankable name, and ditto re Hanks.
Certainly the cast was well up to the task. As Jobs, Fassbender is passionate about product and icy about people; Kate Winslet plays the long-suffering Hoffman with the slightest East European accent; Seth Rogen is the passed over Steve Wozniak; and Michael Stuhlbarg, the oft-berated, yet mostly bouncing back programmer Andy Hertzfeld. Jeff Daniels is John Sculley, who replaced Jobs as a more avuncular head of Apple and who, eventually, was fired himself as the company lurched toward bankruptcy. His departure paved the way for the emperor’s triumphant return.
The script includes some of Jobs’s famous aspirational and inspirational quotes. I have one—not used in the film—over my desk. It says “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Words he clearly lived by.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 85%; audiences 79%.