REVIEW: Life of Steve Jobs yields yet another middling movie treatment

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Andy Warhol had it wrong. Forget those 15 minutes — in the future, everyone will direct their own Steve Jobs movie.

So if you come away dissatisfied with prodigious documentarian Alex Gibney’s “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” fret not. Audiences next month will be treated to Michael Fassbender acting out an Aaron Sorkin-scribed version of the Jobs story in Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs.”

Alex Gibney’s newest documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” chronicles the famed Apple founder. Courtesy photo
Alex Gibney’s newest documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” chronicles the famed Apple founder. Courtesy photo

And unless you’ve got a serious ax to grind against Jobs, you’re likely to come away somewhat dismayed by this effort.

Gibney’s “Jobs” is perhaps the most confrontational of these iFilms, naively questioning from its opening minutes just how so many people could end up mourning Jobs’ passing before launching into its cinematic salvos.

Gibney does an adequate job chronicling Jobs’ rise through the tech world, starting with his days of phone-phreaking and undermining the long-distance companies before building his first computer with Steve Wozniak.

There are perfunctory items about Jobs’ childhood and early years, but the only substantive analysis comes in service of trying to denigrate Jobs, warranted or not. Gibney brings in veteran journalist Michael Malone to claim that Jobs always seemed like he was trying to adopt a persona rather than simply, genuinely embodying the traits of a renegade or “paradigm-shifter.”

Regis McKenna, who helped shape Apple’s brand identity in the late 1970s, says the company’s rise to become one of the highest-valued businesses in America was “a 30-year sitcom, and Steve was the main character.”

In fairness, the sourness with which Gibney portrays Jobs is not out of line with even the Jobs-authorized biography that Walter Isaacson penned a few years ago. But the criticisms feel dumbed down instead of a demystification of a tech giant. One talking head boils Jobs’ interactions with other to three key strategies: Seducing them, vilifying them or ignoring them.

And the evidence Gibney gives us is sparse, instead opting to bounce from quick-hit critiques from former employees to an interview with Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ high-school girlfriend and mother of his first child. Surprisingly, she offers perhaps the fairest estimation of the man, saying he was equal parts confident and awkward.

And before the audience can begin to absorb what few glimpses they get of the private Jobs, the film again shifts to segments of various latter-day Apple scandals, from improper reporting of back-dated stock options to mistreatment of workers at Apple’s Asian manufacturers.

Give “The Man in the Machine” credit for daring to disrupt adoring Apple fanboys by shining light on the lesser-reported, embarrassing aspects of Jobs’ life. But even in serving as perhaps the toughest posthumous hit piece I’ve seen on Jobs to date, it pulls some of those punches in what feels like a half-hearted attempt to cling to some sense of objectivity.

But just like the iPhone, there’s a darn good chance will be a newer, bigger version of this documentary in a year’s time. That will be an upgrade worth making.

Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes. Two and a half stars out of five. Opens Friday at the Chez Artiste.