(Video on Demand, March 2016) It’s a good thing that Ashton Kutcher’s critically-dismissed Jobs (2013) exists, if only as a point of comparison to the far more audacious Steve Jobs. Both try to capture on-screen the life of the famously abrasive Apple co-founder, but the first plays it as straight as it can, while the latter takes a far more experimental approach to its subject. The crucial decision in making this film special is screenwriter Aaron Sorkins’s crucial intuition to structure the film around three key product presentations, allowing the film to focus on Jobs at three moments in his life. The consequences of this choice (including how mini-stories condense around those crucial moments) are nowhere near historically accurate, but they do make the film far more powerful. It helps that Steve Jobs is directed by Danny Boyle, who shoots each act differently and brings just enough of his stylistic experimentation to bear. Michael Fassbinder doesn’t look all that much like Jobs, but he creates a mesmerizing performance that carries the character. He’s ably supported by a number of good actors used effectively, but the star of the movie remains the script, with its overlapping dialogues, technically accurate jargon, fast-switching subplots and quotable moments (“I play the orchestra”). It amounts to a surprisingly good film, made even more surprising by how audience may think they already know enough about Jobs. And that may be Steve Jobs’s legacy: a thrilling execution that manages to prove that a fresh angle is often enough to make the familiar fascinating again.
(In theaters, October 2010) I will admit my scepticism regarding the idea of this film. A drama about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s early days? Why would David Fincher waste his time doing that? Granted, I find Facebook more interesting as a socio-technological phenomenon than as the hub of my online life, but still: Isn’t it a bit early to start making films about such a trivial subject? What I should have figured out is that five years ago is forever in Internet time, that Fincher knew what he was doing and that there was an interesting story at the heart of it all. Very loosely based on Ben Mezrich’s docu-fictive The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network does manage to tell a compelling drama in an entertaining way and even comment on a few contemporary issues along the way. The heart of the piece is in the story of how intellectual arrogance and runaway success can ruin friendships, but the real delight of The Social Network is in the ever-compelling script penned by Aaron Sorkin, from a fast-paced first dialogue that sets the tone, to a structure that jumps back in forth in time (the latter chronology being nowhere in the book), to the clever weaving of themes between old-school social clubs and new-style social media. As an acknowledged nerd, I was stuck at the picture’s fairly accurate portrait of how some very smart people behave, as well as the accuracy of some technical details early in the film. Fincher’s direction may be less visually polished here than in his other film, but it’s effective and coherent: this is a solid drama, and it deserves a flat and grainy picture. (The film’s most striking bit of visual polish, at a regatta, echoes the miniature-faking tilt-shift focus meme that briefly fascinated internet photographers a while back.) The Social Network also benefits from a number of striking performances, from Jesse Eisenberg’s deliberately stunted portrait of Zuckerberg to Justin Timberlake’s magnetic Sean Parker to Armie Hammer’s Winklevii. Part of the appeal is seeing high-powered people interacting (the script uses a “that’s the famous person” joke at least twice to good effect.) in ways that are at least plausibly based on reality. It all amounts to a film that’s quite a bit better than the sum of its parts would suggest –true moviemaking alchemy that leaves viewers wondering how and why it all worked so well.