Steve Jobs (Universal Pictures, R)

Steve-Jobs 75This film is basically wall-to-wall dialogue, all of which is very compelling and smart, and with plenty of amusing barbs along the way.

 

 

 

 

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Here is a movie nerd koan for you: If Kate Winslet is the worst thing about a movie, does that automatically mean that the movie in question is good? Based on evidence found in Danny Boyle’s new movie Steve Jobs, this koan actually does have a solution: Yes. Yes it does.

Winslet isn’t the star, anyway. That of course would be Michael Fassbender, as the Apple icon (or should it be iCon?) Steve Jobs in this film adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the same name. But Fassbender, Winslet, and Boyle aside, the one person on the filmmaking team who might be the biggest draw is the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who wrote one of the decade’s best scripts with 2010’s The Social Network, and who you might know from The West Wing, The Newsroom, Moneyball, or, you know, just by virtue of the fact that he’s one of a very small number screenwriters who’s consistently good enough to be a celebrity himself.

Steve Jobs is actually his most conspicuously ambitious script—it condenses Isaacson’s 600+ page tome into not much more than three long scenes: one in 1984 at the launch of the Macintosh, one in 1989 with the launch of the NeXT, and one in 1998 with the launch of the iMac. There are a few brief flashbacks, and an interstitial montage between ’84 and ’89 and then again between ’89 and ’98, but that’s all we get. Still, the rising and falling action, the anticipation, the overall thrill of the thing is among the best we’ll get this year.

One curious thing about the film, though, is that despite that it’s inarguably excellent, it’s also conspicuously flawed. Not all around—Sorkin’s script is great, as is Fassbender’s performance, and Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley (better known these days for being The Man Who Fired Steve Jobs), and for the most part Boyle’s direction—but the supporting cast is surprisingly infirm. There’s the aforementioned Winslet, who I wasn’t exaggerating when I said she was the worst thing about the movie—she plays Jobs’ assistant Joanna Hoffman, a Polish woman who is about the only person known to be able to stand up to Jobs (and/or put up with him), and while Winslet’s emotion and stature is correct, her accent is all the fuck over the place, to the point of sometimes serious distraction. You might recall that her American accent in Titanic kind of came and went, but since then she’s gotten better at nailing it consistently, as she seems to more commonly play American characters than her native British ones. But the result of her trying to add a Polish accent to her repertoire here results in her sometimes sounding British, sometimes sounding American, and sometimes sounding Polish. Hell, she doesn’t sound Polish for the first time until 1989.

Elsewhere, we have A Serious Man’s Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, one of Jobs’ most trusted developers, whose performance is consistent and empathetic but whose appearance suggests a cast-off of The Big Bang Theory. An unlikely-seeming Seth Rogen appears as Steve Wozniak, the man most capable of building the things Jobs envisions, and while he holds his own in heated debates, he seems like little apart from plain old Seth Rogen in his quieter moments in the film.

But like I said, the draw for many people will be Sorkin’s script, and Sorkin’s script you will get; this film is basically wall-to-wall dialogue, all of which is very compelling and smart, and with plenty of amusing barbs along the way. Boyle deserves credit for keeping this from feeling like a play, which it very well could have (limited sets, no action, tons of dialogue), though one wonders how different it would have been if he were a slightly more capable director of actors. For the answer to that question, go back and look at The Social Network again. | Pete Timmermann

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