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Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
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  • ♦ We thank Fotomontaggio for the header photo from Wikimedia Commons.
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Steve Jobs ••••

SteveJobsposterStarring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson
Biography/drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

iGuess it is time to iWrite another iReview, Greg.

It’s deja vu all over again as we review another Steve Jobs film. Let’s recap:

The movie begins with a tense conversation between Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) just prior to the 1984 launch of the Apple Macintosh. Jobs rails against Time Magazine’s decision to put a PC computer on its cover, and he is upset at Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) for a glitch that prevents the computer from saying “hello” to the world. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) shows up and asks Jobs to acknowledge the work of the old Apple II team, but Jobs refuses.

Meanwhile, Jobs’ old girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) shows up with her daughter Lisa in tow. What ensues is what appears to be a familiar argument between the two. Chrisann points out that Steve is Lisa’s father and he should give her more money for Lisa – after all, he’s worth $42 million. Jobs insists that Lisa is not his daughter and refuses. Still he demonstrates the Macintosh to the little girl and finally relents after she draws him an abstract artwork with MacPaint.

Greg, back in 2013 we reviewed an earlier biopic on Steve Jobs, called simply Jobs, in which Ashton Kutcher played the legendary founder of Apple. The film was forgettable and uninspired. This current movie, Steve Jobs, proves that if you add the hero’s first name to the title, the film improves considerably. Steve Jobs boasts a crisp and clever screenplay that sizzles with snappy, snarky conversations. The movie might not appeal to people who crave action and adventure; it is most certainly dialogue-heavy. But the dialogue is well worth hearing.

Our hero is on a journey that blends self-aggrandizement with self-discovery. Much is made of Jobs’ relentless drive to promote himself and his new electronic gizmos, and interspersed with these efforts are repeated references to Jobs’ upbringing as an adopted child who never quite received enough approval and validation for who he was. During his verbal jousting with CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), Jobs is reminded of his confused identity. In a way, this movie combines an origin story with a hero story that is clouded and confounded by the incoherent origin of the hero.

If you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs you won’t recognize any of the scenes in this movie. But you might recognize a lot of the one-liners. It appears that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin created three major events (the introduction of the Macintosh, the introduction of the NeXT computer, and the introduction of the iPod) to illustrate three phases in Jobs’ life. The content is right, just rearranged in a way to better illustrate his hero’s journey.

The film is rife with secondary supporting characters. Right-hand woman Johanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) covers all the loose ends and at one point becomes Jobs’ conscience. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is Jobs’ alter ego. Where Jobs has no technical skills and struggles with personal relationships, “Woz” points out that it is possible to be both a genius and a nice guy. John Scully represents a father figure – the one Jobs both lacks in his own life and fails for his daughter Lisa. It’s a strong cast and a rich support system for the lead character.

I agree with you about the supporting characters, Greg. They carry the movie, as there isn’t really any story other than what you hear in the constant stream of dialogue that comprises the entire screenplay. As you mention, Joanna serves as a mentor figure to Jobs, and Scully is the father figure that Sigmund Freud believed that all of us must tear down in order for us to carve out our unique and independent identities. His daughter Lisa is a pivotal character. Just as Jobs must tangle with Scully, Lisa must spar with Jobs, with both father and daughter struggling to gain acceptance and recognition.

Overall, the structure of this movie is strange, limiting, yet effective. We witness no hero journey per se, as all the “action” of the film takes place in dialogue form just prior to big product announcements. Yet we are privy to what has transpired before and between events that are known to us or are described for our edification. This movie shouldn’t work, yet it does, thanks to terrific performances by Fassbender, Winslet, and Daniels, not to mention terrific writing that brings to life the complexity of the relationships among the characters.

I was kept in rapt attention throughout the whole film. I was entranced by the dialog between the players and got a strong sense of just how complex Jobs was. Also, unlike 2013’s Jobs, Steve Jobs shows us a maturing Steve Jobs. I give this incarnation of the Jobs saga 4 out of 5 Reels.

We look for transformation in the hero’s journey. And we get a nice transformation in Steve Jobs. Jobs starts out self absorbed, fanatical about detail, and focused on delivering perfection on time. By the time we get to the end of the film we see a mellowed Jobs. One who is as baffled by his younger self as those around him. It’s not a classic hero’s journey (there’s no all-encompassing main goal, for example). But it is still a transformative tale. I give Steve Jobs 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast, as we’ve already pointed out, fulfills the roles of father figure, mentor, reflection, love interest and child. The performances lifted this film to an Oscar-caliber level. I give the supporting cast 4 out of 5 Cast points.

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Steve Jobs is a superbly written tale of a visionary man whose runaway ego almost destroys him time and again. Yet somehow this man prevailed, and this movie offers glimpses into how and why he is able to engineer his successes. Despite being a movie that is completely devoid of action, this film held my attention and fascinated me. Like you, Greg, I believe it deserves 4 Reels out of 5.

I’m still not sure whether our charismatic main character is a hero or an anti-hero. I found myself liking John Scully, Steve Jobs’ nemesis, more than Jobs himself. In fact, almost every character in this movie is more likeable than Jobs. Yet Jobs does manage to attract our sympathy and our respect, and his hard edges do soften in this movie just as they do in Ashton Kuchar’s Jobs. The hero story here is a bit disjointed and missing a few classic elements. As such, it merits a rating of 3 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters are terrific and not much more needs to be said about them. Both Jobs and Scully show us that a fine line exists between the good guys and the bad guys. There is only one character that sticks by Jobs’ side throughout the messes he creates for himself, and that is Joanna, who isn’t quite a love interest but sort of plays that role along with the role of sidekick and mentor. Overall, this cast shines and I can agree with you, Greg, that they deserve a rating of 4 out of 5.

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