Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Steve Jobs": Review


It's hard to think of the last time I anticipated a movie as strongly as I did "Steve Jobs", and there are numerous reasons as to why that is. First, there's the presence of writer Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the brilliant, Oscar-winning script for "The Social Network", which is easily one of my favorite films of the last five years. Second, there's director Danny Boyle, who much like David Fincher, Sorkin's directorial collaborator on "Social Network", has a distinct visual style which makes an unlikely yet fascinating pairing with Sorkin's more verbose sensibilities. There was also the draw of an impressive and eclectic ensemble, featuring Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and the great Michael Fassbender in the title role. This is to say that I was drawn to "Steve Jobs" mainly because of the various pieces involved in the larger puzzle.

It shouldn't be surprising then that while watching "Steve Jobs", I was drawn into the individual components and the interplay between them more so than the overall product. That isn't to say that the overall product isn't satisfying, but "Steve Jobs" is such a unique film experience that you can't quite help but experience it through the pieces rather than the whole, which I actually found to be the films' greatest strength. 

The bottom line, all of the raw talent on paper brings their absolute A-game here, and it's just a thrill watching all of this talent at work. Though I hesitate to say this is a better script than "The Social Network", Sorkin has truly outdone himself here with this daring, one-of-a-kind approach to structure (more on that later). Boyle, who's films include "Trainspotting", "127 Hours" and Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire", was an unlikely choice to direct this material, but he serves it beautifully without his signature style ever becoming diluted in the process. This is truly his best work as a director to date. Last but certainly not least, Fassbender, who's had a remarkable career trajectory in recent years with films like "Shame" and "12 Years a Slave", delivers the performance of his career here, tearing into this meaty role with unwavering commitment and focus. He is equally matched by his supporting cast, with Seth Rogen, in a role which requires the funny man to play it very straight and sincere, the unlikely standout as Steve Wozniak. 

Sorkin's much talked about approach to this material, which was to present a portrait of Jobs through a three act structure with each act taking place in real time during three different Apple product launches, works like gangbusters. Though that framework would seem dramatically limiting, under the energetic direction of Boyle, it makes for an exhilarating cinematic experience. By stepping outside of his comfort zone with this material, Boyle demonstrates that the quality which makes him a great director isn't his visuals, but his humanist instincts. Jobs is not a warm character, but the film doesn't work without him registering some semblance of a human pulse, which Boyle manages to pull out of him by the end. 

I was nervous while watching "Steve Jobs" that, as entertaining as this all was, the structure wasn't working towards a satisfying dramatic conclusion. This fear was alleviated by the time the last act rolled around, where the revolving door of personalities in Jobs' life all seem to converge on him at the moment where he seems to have finally achieved true success. Having been characterized through the entire film as a visionary who would bulldoze over anyone to achieve his goals, these characters force Jobs to confront the realities of his cruelty in getting to where he is. It is in these moments where Sorkin, Boyle and especially Fassbender let us see a more vulnerable side of Jobs. Through just a handful of escalating face-offs with Fassbender, Rogen delivers a performance of great empathy and pathos as Wozniak. Without spoiling the moment itself, his final confrontation with Jobs is the dramatic highlight of the entire film.

Regardless of one's conclusions about the film, this is if nothing else a brilliant conceptual work. For me, I found this to be both immediately absorbing and, ultimately, a dramatically satisfying film experience. Easily one of my favorites of the year so far. 

Grade: A

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