When friends of ours invited us to go with them to watch the new Steve Jobs movie, I was not sure I wanted to. I had read Walter Jacobsen’s authorized biography of Jobs and I didn’t see how it could be made into an interesting film. Jobs was a driven man , obsessed with his work and oblivious to most everything else. His name will forever be associated with Apple and the slew of amazing products that it generated but he was also a cold, ruthless, tyrant who hired and fired employees at will even as he drove others to perform to the limit of their capabilities. The book was a detailed account of the way Jobs operated and while it focused on Jobs’ role in making Apple as one of the leading companies in the world, it also gave us some insight into the man’s personal life. We came to know that he was an adopted child whose step-parents made sacrifices to send him to college only to see him drop out before he hooked up with Steve Wozniak and founded Apple. It also told us about his quirks and eccentricity which alienated most everyone he came in contact with and his mellowing with age particularly after he was diagnosed with cancer. I just didn’t see how all this could be compressed into a two and a half hour movie.
My fears were well founded; the movie was a disappointment.
The movie is framed by three seminal moments in the history of Apple: the launch of the Macintosh, the unveiling of the NeXT computer and how it helped put Jobs once again at the helm of Apple and finally the launch of the iMac. The last of these presaged the slew of iconic products that followed( iPod, iPhone, iPad) but those are not part of this movie. Director Danny Boyle uses these events and the moments preceding them to flash back to events in Jobs life. The device just doesn’t work. Steve Jobs( Michael Fessbender) is at his most obstreperous, disregarding the efforts of his long-suffering executive assistant, Joanna Hoffman ( Kate Winslett) to keep things on track, clashing with subordinates and others and engaged in an ongoing dialog with his estranged daughter. The three episodes blend into one another because of the lead character’s unchanging behavior; his change in appearance is not enough to signal to the viewer that these are different chapters in Jobs life. Also,it is unrealistic to depict Jobs as dealing with all these distractions at such critical junctures in his career.
Even though I had read the book on which the screenplay was based, I found it difficult to follow what was happening onscreen. For those unfamiliar with the book and with Jobs life, it is well-nigh impossible to do so and boring besides. My wife took a nap midway through the movie and I completely understood.
The movie also departs from the book in several important details, not least the characters of Joanna Hoffman and John Sculley. I do not remember Joanna as having any significant role in the book . As for John Sculley( Jeff Daniels), he is portrayed as a likeable man who turns up to offer Jobs his best wishes . This is at odds with the book which paints him as completely out of his depth as CEO of Apple, one who clashed with Jobs and orchestrated his firing.
A biography, whether in print or onscreen, has to be interesting and factual. This movie is neither. The only positive is the acting which I thought was uniformly good, despite the lack of appeal of the characters themselves. When the movie was first released it garnered favorable reviews from the critics but it has since tanked at the box office and is unlikely to recoup its investment. I am not surprised. Two stars( ** ).