Monday, October 26, 2015

"Steve Jobs" Review: Solid Across The Board But Oddly Disconnected When It Comes To The Human Element


What happens when you combine one of the hottest screenwriters in the industry with one of the most versatile and consistent filmmakers working today? The answer would likely be something akin to a masterpiece if it were just left to our imaginations but we don't have to imagine such a thing as the latest attempt to delve into the life and times of Steve Jobs has done just that. Director Danny Boyle has made a film that pays tribute to the icon with a fantastic cast and another excellent screenplay by Aaron Sorkin but it isn't exactly the masterpiece we would hope for as it is hampered by a questionable story structure that despite a range of superb performances results in a strange disconnect with the audience. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  2 hr 2 min
Studio: Universal Pictures 
Release Date: October 23w, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin
Likes: The entire cast, the 2013 film 'Jobs'
Neutral:  Two films about the same person in the same number of years
Hates: That we still don't have the de facto Steve Jobs biopic
Did this much stuff really go on behind the scenes at each launch?: Highly unlikely.


At this point you know who Steve Jobs is. Taking that into account, this new film eschews the traditional biopic formula and zeroes in on what were arguably Jobs' most important product launches and takes us behind the scenes of three in particular, the Macintosh launch in 1984, the Next launch of 1989 and the launch of the iMac in 1998. Each of these specific periods represents a turning point in his career and a turning point for the computer industry as a whole. The interesting bit though is that they weren't chosen because they were successes or that they showed off the genius of Steve Jobs, they were chosen because they showed how the man was able to spin anything into a success even if it wasn't so and how that gift simueltaneously made it impossible for him to make the human connections with those around him that we ourselves take for granted.

The 2013 film Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher got a bad rap. Between its questionable lead star and the general poor buzz surrounding it the public mostly wrote it off like it were a Lifetime movie of the week when released. But those that gave it a chance and had an open mind were treated to a slightly flawed but highly entertaining peak into the life of Steve Jobs. Would it have been nice to have seen more about Steve's personal life outside all the technical feats he is known for or how about delving a little deeper into what he did between all those benchmark moments? Sure, but those were just minor nitpicks at an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film about one of the most prolific dreamers of our time.


Strangely enough it is almost as if Aaron Sorkin read my review for the Ashton Kutcher film and sought out to provide nearly everything that was missing from it, adding in his unique touch and sticking it in a blender to create a wholly different experience that can in many ways to be considered a companion piece to it. Danny Boyle's film is just bursting with energy from the get go, something sorely lacking in the 2013 film, and it never lets up. If you are a fan of Sorkin's other work such as HBO's Newsroom or The Social Network you will know exactly what to expect, which is rapid fire dialog delivered at a blistering pace that if you can keep up with it, will invogorate your senses while Boyle keeps the entire thing moving at an almost exhausting pace.

Danny Boyle's contributions are a lot more subtle which mostly consists of the sharp editing and workmanlike quality to the overall feel of the film. Although the narrative is broken up into this three event structure it is seamlessly linked together with the director's usual finess by using a ton of newsreel footage to help bridge the gaps between them. In most hands that approach might be considered clunky and even a bit lazy but Boyle is relentless in the amount of information he is throwing at the audience, so much so in fact that most might not have even noticed the constant breaks and restarts that occur if not for the tiny little issue with how this format causes an unfortunate disconnect between the characters and the viewer.


It's not the performances nor the casting, let's clear the air on that one right away as every single performance from Michael Fassbender's intensely neurtoic portrayal of Jobs to all the excellent supporting work provided by an impressive line up including the likes of Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels (hot off his supporting role in the similiarly excellent The Martian), no actor is giving anything less than their all here (which they had to considering they were working with an Aaron Sorkin script). Where the disconnect comes in is with the way the film constantly builds tension to the point of boiling over in each of its three distinct parts but lets the air out each time just before the climax occurs and then immediately hits the reset switch where we start all over again.

These major dramatic shifts are akin to an abusive emotional rollcoaster ride if you will, akin to slowly riding to the top of a large dropoff where the higher you get the more you begin to sweat, but instead of dropping us over the other side where satisfaction awaits our quickened pulse we are stopped on the cusp of beginning our descent and suddenly are put into reverse where we slowly go back to the starting point only to later rise right back to the top once again where this teasing is repeated over and over again as we await our release of all that built up tension that frustratingly never comes. It has nothing to do with how well the rollercoaster was built, what kind of experts worked on it nor the amount of research that went into its creation, if we don't get to go over the other side at some point we ultimately feel cheated.


That may be a slight exaggeration because at no point does the film Steve Jobs actually cheat us out of anything particularly important to the story they decided to tell. It doesn't follow traditional rules of storytelling and thus feels like a foreign experiment that causes the audience to readjust the way they are used to being spoon fed their cinematic entertainment. By no means though does that change the fact that there is an inherent flaw with the formula, but as often is the case, the good far outweighs the bad here because at no point while watching Steve Jobs will anyone pause and feel as if they are being cheated, they may lack any sort of connection with any of the characters but that is as far as it goes.

With that being said though, when your audience is unable form a connection with your characters it poses a problem. From beginning to end Steve Jobs is an endlessly fascinating film to take in which is due mostly to the outstanding execution by everyone involved, however if we the audience fail to form that ever so important connection with even our lead character then we might as well be watching a documentary as there is very little reason given to us to care about anyone or anything. Even the more explosive and outright devastating moments such as the many confrantions Steve has with his ex-girlfriend and his disavowed daughter (something the 2013 film was sorely lacking of in terms of providing context) or the verbal showdowns between Steve, Wozniak and his former boss at Apple, the acting is superb, the dialogue sharp and witty, the direction flawless but do we really care? No, and that is the simple single failing of Steve Jobs the film, it just can't form that elementary connection every film needs to succeed, the human element.


So, where does that leave us then? As mentioned before, Steve Jobs the film is near perfection in regards to its overall production, but if you absolutely need to have a connection with your characters then it will likely leave you with an empty hole in your gut as you walk out the theater. You will find yourself praising all of its disparate parts from the incredible cast to the sharp script by Aaron Sorkin and remarking how well Danny Boyle was able to recreate and assemble these monumental moments in the life of a monumental figure, but when someone asks you how you felt about the characters, well...


FINAL THOUGHTS:

There are absolutely no reasons to not see Steve Jobs. It is an incredible film that documents some very particular moments in the life of an incredibly misunderstood individual who would go on to change the way the world would look at home computers. From the lives he destroys along the way to the many breakthroughs he forges with those sacrifices, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin succeed at capturing the intensity and turmoil that fueled his immensely creative mind. But when it comes to knowing who Steve Jobs was out of the spotlight and instilling sympathy for his troubled life the film falls just short of greatness.

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