Saturday, 14 November 2015

Steve Jobs (4½ Stars)

This is a biographical film about the life of Steve Jobs, founder of "the other computer company". If I remember correctly, that's what Apple once called itself in an advertising campaign. In the early days of personal computers, from the late 1970's to the end of the 1980's, there were several companies that manufactured personal computers (more often called home computers), companies like Commodore, Atari and Texas Instruments, but the two most successful companies were IBM and Apple. Roughly speaking, IBM had a 60% market share, Apple 30%, and the other companies battled for the remaining 10%.

The film is effectively a play in three acts. All three acts take place in what looks like the same conference building -- if it's not the same they're at least generically identical buildings -- where Steve is presenting new products in 1984, 1988 and 1998. There are short flashbacks to previous events that occurred at other locations, but apart from that everything happens on stage, in back rooms or on the roof of the building.

In 1984 Steve Jobs was presenting the Macintosh, in 1988 he was presenting the NeXT Cube, in 1998 he was presenting the iMac.

The strength of the film is that it doesn't just tell us about his successes and failures in his business life. It shows us the development of his relationship with his daughter Lisa, from the age of five (in 1984) to nineteen. At first he refuses to accept that she's his daughter, but even as time progresses we're given the impression that he rarely sees her. He didn't get on well with Lisa's mother because he thought she was only trying to get money from him.

In each act of the film the same people appear to talk to him, whether to encourage him or argue with him. There's his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, his old friend and business partner Steve Wozniak, the corporate head of Apple John Sculley and a reporter from GQ. In their interaction with him we see that Steve Jobs was a difficult person to get on with. He had ideas in his head about what his computers should be like, but his ideas were based on aesthetics, not on commercial viability.

The film is a masterpiece from the hands of the British director Danny Boyle. The acting by Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Kate Winslet (Joanna Hoffman) is amazing. I didn't necessarily get to like Steve Jobs -- that wasn't the film's intention -- but I got to know him inside out, and well before the end of the film I cared about him and wanted him to find a solution for the problems in his life. This level of character development is something that all films should aspire to.

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