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Movie Review: 'Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Here's the second of three movies to emerge in the space of two years about the same real-life person.

Now that's high-profile.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is the only documentary among the three, but all three focus on the late Apple co-founder and  CEO, perhaps the most revered corporate figure of this era, with Ashton Kutcher playing him in 2013's Jobs and Michael Fassbender about to portray him in October in Steve Jobs.

SJ:TMITM is the work of prolific documentarian Alex Gibney, who also directed the controversial Scientology expose, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief; the Oscar-winning CIA torture-techniques investigation, Taxi to the Dark Side; and the Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Starting at the end – Jobs' 2011 death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56 -- so as to sidestep the chronological cradle-to-grave approach, Gibney kicks things off with the death of Jobs by interviewing anonymous ordinary people expressing what seems to be an inordinate level of grief for a member of the computer and business communities.

His film then proceeds as a warts-and-all portrait in hopes of differentiating between Jobs himself and the beloved, sleek, high-tech products he designed and marketed – the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad -- that is, this man's particular machines.

In short, it was his stuff, not him, that was beloved.

Jobs' devotion to the notion of a personal computer, as opposed to IBM's business computers, spoke to people in an amazingly impactful way – as we now well know.

Gibney lets Jobs do much of his own talking in archival interviews and broadcast news stories, but the film easily makes the case that this Silicon Valley tyrant in his signature black turtleneck and jeans was not only directed and driven but demanding and dishonest and deceitful as well.

The profile that emerges is of a man who changed the world and whose products have helped us to feel an alleged connectedness.  But that seeming connectedness has turned out to be an isolating technology that may be more about the "alone together" phenomenon than anything else: glance around and see how many people in your presence right now are looking at their smartphones as you read this.

Moreover and ironically, Jobs himself seemed to do very little real emotional connecting with anyone, including his loved ones and family members and lifelong friends.

Gibney's approach is fascinating and his voiceover script eloquent when it needs to be.  Especially his summation, even though we're still not sure at that point that we know the subject any better than we did when we started watching.

And maybe knowing what made him tick is impossible anyway.  But the contradictions and complexity of the puzzle that was this icon comes through loud and clear.

(3 stars out of 4)

So we'll compute 3 stars out of 4 for Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, an engrossing documentary analysis of a technological guru.  Fully understanding the subject may be impossible, but this doc comes close to getting the Jobs done.

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