After the tremendous way Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay brought the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg to the big screen in The Social Network, my expectations were soaring for his take on the late Steve Jobs and his rise, fall and rise again with Apple.
Like Zuckerburg, the story of Jobs is likely to interest only those interested in the work they were directly involved in, but done right, the film’s reach could go far beyond. And with The Social Network, it did, winning three Academy Awards and grossing over $200 million at the box office.
But it seems a film on Steve Jobs is more of an uphill battle. Apple today is much more divisive in the public eye than Facebook was in 2009, and where The Social Network focused more on the creation of a tool most of us use every day, Steve Jobs is less about Apple, its products and impact, and more about the man. A slightly tougher sell – and it shows with a box office total currently only about half the film budget.
Steve Jobs is nearly as focused around Aaron Sorkin as it is Jobs himself, both of whom have garnered reputations for being difficult to work around with very focused mindsets. Granted, both have earned respect and success, but as we see in this film in regards to Jobs, at what cost?
When asked what he actually does, at one point in the film, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) refers to himself as the conductor: “Musicians play instruments. I play the orchestra.” A position Sorkin can relate with in collaboration with director Danny Boyle. Each role is excellently cast, particularly Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ longtime loyal assistant. In fact, the weakest link might be with the conductors themselves.
Much of the The Social Network‘s winning formula was in David Fincher’s tense direction that could have benefitted this film greatly. Instead, we see the entirety of this one play out minutes before several major product announcements across 20 years of technology advancement, as if everything significant only ever took place backstage while an excited audience anxiously waited out front. Of course, this creates more than enough tension, but it’s a liberty taken out of convenience that cheapens what could have been an excellent portrayal of Jobs’ rollercoaster otherwise, that and it gives an excuse for Sorkin’s signature ‘walk-and-talk’, which quickly becomes cliche even before “let’s walk” is actually spoken before one such instance.
Ultimately, the film fails to capture much of what mades Steve Jobs such a fascinating figure. Rather than have an admittedly predictable chronological telling of events, which really wouldn’t have been a bad thing, we’re given a series of points – some key, some not – and a narrow stage with which to contemplate them. It’s too limiting.