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Review: ‘Steve Jobs—The Man in the Machine’ penetrates below the surface (Includes first-hand account)

The path to success is not generally without obstacles, but a person’s manner of dealing with these complications is a good indication of their character. If they exhibit callousness early in their career, there’s little hope their disposition will improve over time; rather it’s more likely that insensitivity will grow in parallel with their accomplishments since it appears to be a verified means to the desired end. The key, however, is to conceal any unpleasant behaviour behind the guise of a liked and respected façade. Documentarian Alex Gibney examines one of the world’s most successful and possibly most misunderstood figures in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.

Starting with the global outpouring of emotion following Steve Jobs‘ passing, Gibney goes back to the beginning to try to understand why people felt so affected by the death of a tech mogul. A young Jobs is shown to have always had an interest in technology, finding camaraderie amongst his fellow nerds including to-be-business-partner Steve Wozniak. Working at Atari is the first-time Jobs demonstrates a significant level of deception that resulted in career advancement. Later he would apply the same ability to persuade others to work towards his vision to turn Apple into a leading and prosperous tech firm. During the years that followed, Jobs’ personal and professional paths would be cluttered with the collateral damage of his success.

Gibney uses interviews with people who knew and worked with Jobs alongside archival footage to paint a picture not often revealed. It’s widely known Jobs refused to acknowledge his first child, but her mother actually speaks about their relationship and the circumstances of their separation with comments from Jobs’ other associates. An engineer integral to the creation of the “personal computer” speaks about the toxic work environment that led to professional triumph and personal downfall. Journalists talk about their experiences with Jobs, from profilers to Gizmodo‘s reporter who was penalized for obtaining an unreleased iPhone. Gibney also interviews Jobs’ spiritual advisor to discover why he never achieved his desire for monkhood.

This documentary isn’t as unkind as it’s been made out to be — perhaps based more on the filmmaker’s previous exposés — but it does feel more complete and honest than some other representations of the Apple co-founder. It demonstrates that he was a shrewd businessman willing to do whatever it took to reach and stay at the top, and who accepted the costs of his success. Yet many of the same people he manipulated still considered him a friend and visionary. He’s shown to be the master of his own image, even constructing an origin story he knew would be better than any that could occur naturally. Using his accessible and consistently effective storytelling style, Gibney avoids undermining Jobs’ achievements but also doesn’t pull any punches when exploring how he accomplished them. And its release just months prior to the debut of Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin‘s biopic starring Michael Fassbender as Jobs will make an interesting comparison; not to mention the 2013 overview featuring Ashton Kutcher.

Director: Alex Gibney

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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