Steve Jobs ****
Directed by Danny Boyle
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, adapted from the eponymous biography by Walter Isaacson;
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels; produced by Scott Rudin; 122’, 2015
The genius, the ego, the disdainful intransigence of Steve Jobs. The entrepreneur who founded Apple and ushered in the era of the personal computer is put under pressure by his close and mistreated collaborators, his daughter’s mother and his child (then a teenager) who for years he refused to recognize as his. He’ll be forced to confront the trauma (a complication that occurred during his adoption) that is the source of his aggression, but also of his talent. He’ll understand that it is possible to soften the first without affecting the second.
“It’s not binary, you know? You can be decent and gifted at the same time”. In this remark, perfectly fitting the technological setting of the story, and spoken to the protagonist by partner and lifetime friend Wozniak, lies the message of the movie. Not even an extraordinary figure can be excused for being ungrateful to those who worked under him, and for not being a decent father.
The articulation in three chapters of a story with a theatrical structure (all set in closed spaces, completely dialogue-centered) is quite original. The three “acts” correspond to three moments in Steve Jobs’ life: the keynote presentation of a new PC model, the Macintosh, in 1984 – the first product really “his own” and innovative example of user-friendly technology; the NeXT Computer in 1988 –launched by a competitor of Apple, after his ousting from the company; and the iMac in 1998 – the PC of his consecration, with Jobs again at helm of the company of the bitten apple.
To use a popular analogy: first comes the challenge of conquest (the “war” on IBM), then the exile, and finally the glorious return of the king. Always between dressing rooms, hallways and stages, preparing for an imminent presentation.
The deeper question underneath the whole story (what in his past brought the genius and the difficult personality together) is linked to two other questions. Will Jobs be able to overcome the barrier preventing him from being a good father? Will he manage to tame his pride, publicly aknowledging the merits of those who contributed to his success? This would be be an almost perfect happy ending, with Jobs coming to look inside himself more honestly.
Nearer the surface there is the fun of witnessing the eccentric, arrogant and irascible behaviour of a superior mind. Sorkin’s hand is unbeatable in portraying the man and his entourage, starting from his ability to write brilliant and sarcastic dialogues. There are the intriguing backstage dynamics of a professional élite for whom communication is crucial.
Above all, there’s the fundamental optimism of Sorkin’s portrayal of the characters: competitive and stressed men and women, running into conflict with each other and confronting them face-to-face, but wanting to be better and, despite their skirmishes, caring for each other. In the end the good comes out, as we see mainly in two characters: Joanna, Jobs assistant – the critical conscience that restlessly urges him to correct himself – and Sculley, the CEO responsible for his exile – the father figure through which, always by confrontation, Jobs is able to open up about his past.
The story, however, stimulates the brain more than the heart. Repeating the same construction for three episodes in a row is tiresome. In addition, Jobs growth, squeezed in at the end instead of being progressively revealed along the three episodes, has a rather sophisticated and indirect trigger (the discovery of having misinterpreted a Time cover) and doesn’t involve any particularly fraught choices (unless delaying a presentation for a few minutes to talk with his daughter counts as such). Also, Sorkin doesn’t bother to explain much about the technological and business issues which, in their complexity, are the subject of the film’s scintillating dialogues.
Problematic elements: some instances of foul language.