Thesis M.A. student Nicholas David Bambach reviews Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle 2015)

*Before I begin my review of Steve Jobs, I want to thank the Athena Cinema and Universal Studios for their free preview screening of the film on Tuesday October 13, 2015

This past summer, I taught a course on David Fincher’s films primarily through genre studies. Although he’s primarily known for making thrillers, the sole biopic in Fincher’s canon is The Social Network (2010), a film chronicling the rise of the FaceBook empire that led to the normalization of social media in our everyday lives. The Social Network focused on Mark Zuckerberg, a socially awkward computer whiz but someone who’s not entirely likeable. Zuckerberg not only gets wealth and fame in his head, but stabs his best friend and FaceBook co-creator Eduardo Saverin to retain control over his social media empire. 

Now why did I bring up The Social Network and Fincher? Fincher was attached to direct the much-anticipated biopic on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs at Sony (the studio who helmed The Social Network) but did meet Fincher’s demands. Besides an asking salary of $10 million, Fincher wanted complete artistic creative control on his Steve Jobs biopic and Sony refused. Aaron Sorkin, the famous television writer who penned the highly acclaimed series The West Wing and The Newsroom, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network and remained the screenwriter for the Jobs biopic. While watching the newly-released Steve Jobs biopic directed by the most fascinating English director Danny Boyle, I kept thinking what would have Fincher done with Sorkin’s screenplay? What would have been Fincher’s aesthetic and narrative approach to tell the life of one of the most important figures in recent American history? These questions haunted me while watching the new Steve Jobs (2015) film.

There has been an influx of films focusing on Steve Jobs in recent years. There was that terrible Jobs (2013) film starring Ashton Kutcher who was a total miscast in the title role. Alex Gibney’s new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015) also focuses on the Apple co-founder, which I have not yet seen because it was only released in the last month or so. There has been major interest to tell Job’s life story in the mass media, which is not entirely surprising. Even before his 2011 death, Jobs was a mythologized figure that greatly attributed to Apple’s successes (and blunders, as evident in Boyle’s film). Jobs was a polarizing figure, a genius who was both a visionary and complicated man.

Now let’s turn our attention to Boyle’s Steve Jobs, a great film that will certainly be a strong contender once the award show season begins. The film focuses on 3 different events in time periods, fundamental to Jobs’ life and career: 1984 (the launch of the Macintosh personal computer that led to Jobs’ firing at Apple), 1988 (the infamous black cube launch without Apple) and 1998 (cumulating in Jobs’ return to Apple and the launch of the iMac). The film uses a non-linear narrative approach, akin to The Social Network, showing Jobs and other Apple associates creating their famous products.

One of the film’s highlights is Michael Fassbinder’s excellent, tour-de-force performance as Steve Jobs. Fassbinder’s Jobs does not seem like a pleasant person at all: he yells at his employees and co-workers and even stuns his estranged girlfriend and their daughter (who he claims is not his child despite a court ruling that he is indeed the father). Like Zuckerberg, Jobs is self-absorbed but a complex genius that made him a highly influential public figure. Ever since watching his performance as IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), I have been a fan of Fassbinder’s performances. What I like about Fassbinder is his ability to give excellent, memorable performances in a slew of films Not only do I believe Fassbinder is arguably the best male actor currently working in Hollywood, I think his performance as Jobs might even lead to his first Oscar win in the Best Lead Actor category.

One of the main critiques fired at Boyle’s film is the historical accuracy of the events depicted in Steve Jobs.  As a film scholar, one of my primary scholarly interests will always remain the biopic. Sometimes that biopic scholars always face is the problem of condensing a person’s life in a 2-hour film. Like a documentarian, biopic filmmakers must choose what parts of a person’s life is worthy to be in a film. Biopics have an impossible task tackling a person’s life while remaining in a objective position. Jobs remains in a objection position for the most part and even points to Jobs’ flaws and sometimes unlikeable personality.

What becomes interesting in Steve Jobs is that the narrative ends in 1998 with Jobs’ return to Apple with the launch of the iMac. Throughout the film, there are numerous references and odes to later Apple inventions such as the iPod, iPhone, and iWatch.  I wonder why Boyle and Sorkin decided to omit Jobs’ life and career after 1998 when Apple once again became a profitable company.

 Jobs is an earnest attempt from Boyle and Sorkin although I think the film tends to be a little too melodramatic at times (especially in the scenes with Jobs’ interactions with his former lover and daughter). Without giving anything away, I found the ending a bit tacky and oversimplified the situations for the sake of slapping a happy ending to the narrative. Despite the film’s imperfections, I think the interest in Jobs will continue in upcoming weeks now that awards season is approaching.