Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2015. Universal Pictures, Legendary Entertainment, Scott Rudin Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Entertainment 360, Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Digital Image Associates. Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Walter Isaacson. Cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler. Produced by Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Scott Rudin. Music by Daniel Pemberton. Production Design by Guy Hendrix Dyas. Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlar. Film Editing by Elliot Graham. Academy Awards 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
Aaron Sorkin applies his fast-talking style to the career of Steve Jobs for a film that is, thankfully, not a biopic but an investigation of ambition and compromise. The entire thing takes place at three different stockholder presentations, all the action centered around the moments before show time: 1984, with the announcement of the Macintosh computer that would ultimately fail; 1988, after being fired from Apple, where the presentation of his Next machine (complete with no operating system) would lead to his getting back into the company he co-founded; and 1998, where the creation of the iMac would begin the climb to the top that sees Apple as the brand success that it is today. At each event, Jobs (played with a smart and effective appeal by Michael Fassbender, who succeeds at being uncharacteristically verbal) experiences the personal and professional colliding at a break-neck speed, arguing with his second in command (Kate Winslet, superb), fending off the demands of his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) and the little girl he is reluctant to take responsibility for, as well as arguing with colleagues (Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg) whom he has screwed over, been screwed over by or, in most cases, both. The examination of this fascinating, innovative figure, who passed away in 2011 of pancreatic cancer, asks us to wonder if so common a consideration as people’s feelings is important when you’re making such a huge financial and cultural success of yourself. Can the people in your life take it personally that you put your ambitions ahead of their needs, or should they accept that, in a capitalist culture that values this kind of success so highly, it’s just business. The problem is that the film itself is just business, for while Sorkin and director Danny Boyle do a great job of not passing judgment on Jobs either way, holding him responsible for his irascible personality while also admiring his achievements, they don’t get anything lasting out of this even-handed approach. It’s hard to hold a man accountable for his deeds when none of the things he loses are things he holds particularly dear, there are really no stakes until a conclusion that, frankly, feels like it was forced in to give us a happy ending. Watching the mechanics of Jobs putting his presentations together is fun, the actors all particularly bewitching in the effortless way they toss out Sorkin’s dialogue and their explosive stand-offs enjoyable and diverting. There just isn’t much substance to the whole thing, an absolutely respectable and appropriate venture that was made with enthusiasm over the business stuff and given relationship content as an afterthought.