Alex Gibney’s documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” asks why so many people felt personally connected to a man they’d never met — and maybe wouldn’t have liked if they did. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“He won our hearts by convincing us that Apple represented a higher ideal,” says documentarian Alex Gibney, in voice-over, near the beginning of his latest film “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Gibney, a prolific Oscar winner whose recent works have included examinations of Lance Armstrong (“The Armstrong Lie”), Julian Assange/WikiLeaks (“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”) and Frank Sinatra (“Sinatra: All or Nothing at All”), is no stranger to controversial figures. Here, he begins the film on a personal note: his own fascination, and puzzlement, with the outpouring of grief and emotion upon Jobs’ 2011 death. Why did so many people, Gibney wonders, feel personally connected to this man they’d never met — and maybe wouldn’t have liked if they had?
Though Apple and the Jobs family declined to participate in this film, Gibney spoke to a number of people who knew him, both professionally and personally. Out of necessity, much is left out (you’ll hear nothing of the long Microsoft/Apple wars); but the result, to put it mildly, isn’t flattering. Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple and the genius mind behind so many products that have changed our lives (the Mac, the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad), is praised by all as a visionary — a man who forever changed our relationship with technology, and who made computers delightful and fun.
But he also, according to the film, ruled Apple by chaos, cheated his friends, tried to deny his own daughter (and skimped on child support), scoffed at charitable giving, parked in spots reserved for the disabled, and created a corporate culture in which tax evasion, exploitation of overseas workers and questionable manipulation of stock options to top executives were acceptable.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,’a documentary directed by Alex Gibney. 128 minutes. Rated R for some language. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday; Sundance Cinemas (21+).
Though Gibney makes his points convincingly, these charges are harsh (though many mirror similar accusations recently aimed at Amazon in the media), and sometimes “Man in the Machine” feels like it needs a balancing voice. But it’s nonetheless a fascinating film, as Gibney’s always are. What, exactly, is the legacy of Jobs, whose beautiful machines have left us both more connected and more isolated than ever? How was Jobs able to find that magical ingredient that made so many of us not just use our iPhones and iPads, but fall in love with them? The film leaves us wondering, pausing, even as one hand automatically strays to a cellphone — just in case, while watching a movie, we missed something.
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