To get right to the point, Alex Gibney’s new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is anything but a puff job and will probably rankle worshippers of Apple’s Ubermensch.
Jobs’ extraordinary achievements are given their due, but the film makes it abundantly clear that he could also be a hard-hearted and self-centered S.O.B.
That Jobs had shortcomings isn’t news, but Gibney places them in context. Jobs was a seeker who explored Zen Buddhism, and a brutal executive who fostered “creative tension“ in the workplace. He considered himself a revolutionary who was empowering average men and women, but his company turned a blind eye to poor working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple products.
Gibney, whose most recent film is Going Clear, an efficient exposé of Scientology, admits to mixed feelings about his subject, allowing that he is addicted to his iPhone while wondering about the possible negative societal effects of that and other Jobs devices. Nor does he neglect to acknowledge how profoundly Jobs affected many people around the world, marveling at the outpouring of public grief when Jobs died in 2011.
Neither Apple nor Jobs cooperated with this film, which uses extensive archival footage of the man, bolstered by interviews with people who knew him well, such as Bob Belleville, former head of the Macintosh engineering team, and Chrisanne Brennan, the mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa, whose paternity he once doubted.
One of the film’s most touching segments is an account, from a magazine article written by the daughter — Lisa Brennan-Jobs — about how overjoyed she was when her father, of whom she saw little, took her along on a business trip to Japan.
Depite all its compelling information, the film somehow feels long, and some of the director’s musings on the isolating nature of technology seem obvious at this point. But the material is so rich that even less talented filmmaker would have a hard time bobbling it.
In the movie’s second half, the contradictions keep piling up — Jobs was a genuine innovator who also took credit for things he didn’t do. He pursued spiritual enlightenment, and was implicated in the backdating of stock options. In his younger days he wanted to beat up on the business establishment (particularly IBM), and he eventually became the business establishment.
Perhaps that’s what puzzles Gibney most, that the ’60s-era visionary was the same man as the cutthroat tycoon.
Exclusive: The Texas Theatre, Dallas
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Steve Jobs, Bob Belleville
Rated: R (some strong language)
Running time: 120 min.