Christian Bale could soon become the third actor to portray Steve Jobs, according to a recent report in The Wrap. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iconic co-founder has been portrayed in the past by Noah Wyle (Pirates of Silicon Valley, 1999) and Ashton Kutcher after Jobs died (Jobs, 2013).
The film, written by The West Wing and The Newsroom scribe Aaron Sorkin and tentatively directed by David Fincher, will be based on Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography. Sorkin's film will only consist of three half-hour scenes from Jobs' life prior to three major product releases -- the Macintosh, the NeXT, and the iPod. Fincher has stated that he would only helm the film if Bale was cast in the lead role.
A very broad take versus a very narrow one on Jobs' life
Joshua Michael Stern's Jobs, which was distributed by Open Road Films and Entertainment One, grossed $36 million on a production budget of $12 million, but fared poorly with critics with a dismal 27% rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus was that Ashton Kutcher was the spitting image of Jobs, but the film was a lifeless, by-the-numbers retelling of the birth of Apple -- a tale that most tech investors know by heart. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak criticized the film, saying he was "turned off by the script" and that it misrepresented many people involved in Apple's birth.
Fincher and Sorkin's film, which will be distributed by Sony (NYSE:SONY), will likely be a familiar convergence of Sorkin's work on The Social Network, Sports Night, and Newsroom, in which fast-talking characters effortlessly immerse themselves in industry routines and jargon. Fincher directed The Social Network, and also acclaimed films such as Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The potent writing and directing duo of Sorkin and Fincher could create a film that receives a warmer critical reception than Stern's film, which was penned by first-time screenwriter Matt Whiteley.
Why Christian Bale could do a better job than Ashton Kutcher
Kutcher's strong resemblance to Jobs in Stern's film was uncanny, but Bale is a superior method actor who effortlessly vanishes into his roles.
Bale, in my opinion, could fade into the role much better than Kutcher did -- and those three aforementioned periods of Jobs' life could give Bale three chances to showcase how differently he can portray the same character three different times. Bale also has the perfect mix of charisma, intelligence, petulance, and cruelty that defined Steve Jobs, and could likely go through a tortuous weight loss regimen -- as seen in The Machinist and The Fighter -- to capture Jobs' physical changes over the years.
But are filmmakers focusing on the wrong period of Jobs' life?
Hollywood studios love to make the same film twice.
In the 1990s, we had Deep Impact and Armageddon, Gordy and Babe, and The Truman Show and EDTv. That trend of doppelganger films has rolled on in recent years, with films like Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, and now two Steve Jobs biopics.
There could certainly be an audience for another Jobs film after the first one failed to leave a lasting impression, but does Aaron Sorkin really need to revisit the version of Steve Jobs that has already been documented in countless video interviews, articles, and books?
It might be fun to watch Bale pull off a startling Steve Jobs impersonation, but it probably won't add much to what the public already knows about the man. Instead, filmmakers could delve into Jobs' childhood and adolescence -- a fascinating period of his life well documented in Isaacson's biography. Tales of a young Steve rigging his home full of speakers as two-way microphones, placing an explosive under his teacher's chair, being bribed by five bucks and a lollipop, and calling up Bill Hewlett (of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ)) for spare parts for a school project are all fascinating bits of Steve Jobs' life that could be tied together in a funny and inspirational film similar to Joe Johnston's October Sky (1999).
By comparison, Stern's Jobs took a heavy-handed approach to his life, concentrating on the company rather than the man. And while Apple was certainly Jobs' legacy, Isaacson's book is a treasure trove of great stories, minus Apple, that could be great material for a very different kind of Steve Jobs biopic.
My final take
In closing, a new Steve Jobs film will likely be a hit, especially if it is written by Sorkin, directed by Fincher, and stars Christian Bale.
While I have no doubt that the film could be a great showcase for Bale's tremendous talents, it could also be another wasted opportunity like Stern's Jobs, doing a great disservice to Steve Jobs and Walter Isaacson by distilling such a rich and fascinating biography into three 30-minute conversations. Moreover, it could reinforce the notion that Steve Jobs and Apple are inseparable, rather than concentrating on the life experiences of the man who made it all happen.