There are amazing stories in the life of Steve Jobs: how two kids in a garage took on one of the world’s most powerful companies, IBM, and came out on top; how Steve Jobs, after getting fired, came back to Apple and returned it from near-bankruptcy to the most valuable company in the world; how he led the invention of two products – the iPod and the iPhone – that revolutionized two industries as well as the leisure-time activities of not only all Americans but so many citizens of the world. These are alluded to in this documentary by Alex Gibney, but not much more. Instead, we are given a scattershot of vignettes from Jobs’s career that seem to address, not the question posed by Gibney of why Jobs was so revered when he died, but a more general point of view: “Yes, but…”
The qualifications that Gibney harps on, furthermore, are presented without much context. Sure, Apple tried to minimize its tax liabilities, but what corporation doesn’t? Yes, he wanted his compensation increased, but what ceo doesn’t? Apple products are manufactured in China in working conditions below American standards – let’s see the list of companies you can say that about. He is not a warm and fuzzy human being – well, sorry, no one is worshiping Jobs because he is a saint, and so much of Gibney’s movie seems beside the point.
More generally, I was distracted by the constant cutting and mixing of Jobs at different ages, with vastly different appearances. There was no chronology to the film, just different chapters: the daughter he denied; the prototype phones that got lost in bars; his car; dealings with journalists; backdating stock options (confusing); his health. Subjects seemed chosen based on the availability of on-camera interviewees or grainy film clips. In all, the movie was fascinating just because the subjects – Jobs and Apple – are so fascinating and so much a part of our lives. It also helped to have read Walter Isaacson’s book that covered all the same ground. But as a movie, the lack of focus, lack of organization and lack of perspective left me feeling empty, if not annoyed, as I looked back and left me wondering, was this rushed into theaters to beat the next Jobs movie due out next month?