NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: There are dozens of things to truly admire about Danny Boyle‘s new film “Steve Jobs,” from its ambition to tell a compelling story about a famous man and the structure in which it decides to tell it. The initial casting of Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender was criticized initially because some felt he was “too good-looking” to interpret a man, who was essentially a computer nerd. By the film’s third sequence, Fassbender fully melts into the role and delivers one of his most visceral and intriguing performances to date. What’s equally measured to his work is the talent and ferocity of Academy Award winner Kate Winslet, who falls into a sympathetic, determined woman, whose conscience is complicit in witnessing vile behavior. Aaron Sorkin‘s script is a multitude of words and one-liners, and is just plain smart in its dialogue exchanges between its characters. And finally, Boyle himself has never been more reserved in his direction, letting the words flow through the screen like a tractor trailer through a corn field. He sits on the sidelines, only letting instances of his vivacious direction show its head, which may or may not be a plus for Boyle enthusiasts. With all this said, it sounds like just a romp at the movies. Then why am I left underwhelmed by the final product?
“Steve Jobs” tells the story of Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs, who during three big product launches in his career, examines both professional and personal relationships in his life.
We have to begin with the story’s narrative structure. Choosing three set pieces in 1984, 1988, and 1998 to show the progression of the film’s characters was genius. We see a growth and progression to not just Steve Jobs, but the surrounding players in which are a part of his life. The film is jam-packed with wall-to-wall dialogue, something that is truly impressive to watch unfold in the moment, but hard to take in as key information and thoughts are being displayed. I needed some more beats, to take in, and disengage from the moment, to properly move on to the next. Its a movie that clearly needs two or three viewings to get everything from it. This may be its ultimate downfall. “Steve Jobs” demands so much of its viewer. Our attention, dedication, and fearless endowment to the characters and the moment. I’m not entirely certain that general audiences can do that for 122 minutes. It becomes a double-edged sword. Is it okay that a movie such as this exists that will require us to give repeated participation to fully understand everything it has to say and reveal or does a film only deserve one shot to say everything it wants to say? I’m not sure I have a clear answer to that but I feel comfortable that general audiences members probably feel more towards the latter. Sorkin’s work is compelling, with vibrantly preyed upon dialogue that simply sings through the theater. Its surely one of his most ambitious efforts of his career, and likely something that will forward his progression as a screenwriter, even in his later years.
From a performance standpoint, the film stands near the top of ensembles and individualized works seen in 2015. Fassbender approaches Jobs with a familiarity, like he knows the man. He finds sarcasm to be a second language, and repugnancy to be a way of life. Boyle and Sorkin do very little to have Jobs redeem himself, as he continues to pile on immorality with repulsive, revolting behavior that may make you think twice before talking to “Siri” ever again. I can’t recall a Lead Actor candidate this unlikable in quite some time. It’s a tour-de-force to behold, and one that will surely place near the top of Oscar ballots, but I’d be lying if I say I was looking forward to spending time with the character “Steve Jobs” again.
What Fassbender benefits immensely from, is a squad of supporting players, each making their individual mark. Winslet firmly plants her feet next to “Jobs,” declaring herself as one of the finest actresses we have working today. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley is easily the most comfortable with the script’s barrage of words. Daniels handles it with a defined purpose, delivering his best portrayal since “The Squid and the Whale.” To a pleasant surprise, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak is tenderly inserted, and holding back all his normal tics and signature mannerisms that have made him a star. It’s a welcomed entry into serious and challenging roles in the actor’s future. Staggeringly underused but equally effective as each of her castmates is Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ high-school girlfriend and “possible mother” to his daughter, played by three talented child actresses, Makenzie Moss, Perla Haney-Jardine, and Ripley Sobo. The dynamic and vigorous Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld is a sensation to watch, and will go down as one of the key players by a select group of movie-goers. Let’s just call this a SAG Ensemble lock, shall we?
Boyle’s market for his bombastic colors and dance sequences are sure to miss them because they are non-existent. It’s great to see him taking a different approach to his storytelling, though letting running text play a role should feel familiar for many. What I found dizzying was the camera work by Alwin H. Küchler, who in the spirit of “Birdman,” has the audience constantly moving along with its constant walking characters. At one point, you want to just beg them to sit down and chill out for a second. Hats off to Elliot Graham‘s editing, who cuts to a commanding pace, even if more pauses would have been appreciated. What shines above all the technical merits is the score by Daniel Pemberton, orchestrating a symphony of music that swells in at the finest moments, and breathes new life into the work of composers everywhere. It was a truly remarkable piece of music that just flies off the screen.
“Steve Jobs” may require more from us than we’re willing to give, and surely may grow in estimation over time as such films like “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Take Shelter” have done for me. And I’ll embrace that day when it happens, but for now, what I’m left with is a cold, although curious, wonderment of a man who succeeds when the deck is stacked against him. A calling for more screenwriters and filmmakers to take on such acts of real life figures in the future will surely be necessary. Indulge in the pit of words.
“Steve Jobs” opens in limited release on October 9 and is distributed by Universal Pictures.