Despite the fact that we can probably say Steve Jobs helped shape the times we live in about as much as anyone, I can’t say I know much about the man behind the turtleneck. And there’s certainly been a lot of attempts to unravel who exactly Jobs was ever since his passing in 2011 in the form of books and documentaries and the other, presumably shittier Jobs movie. But perhaps because the movie Steve Jobs has been in development for so long, and has had such an impressive amount of talent attached to it, this has been the document of the Apple founder/CEO that I’ve been waiting for to bring me closer to this complicated genius. However, I now realize that that makes no sense at all since this is an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, and much like Sorkin’s script for The Social Network, you can probably assume he’s playing pretty fast and loose with the facts here. That said, I more-or-less believe that movies have no obligation to be beholden to the truth as long as you believe what is happening onscreen, which I basically felt with Steve Jobs, while also finding a lot of aspects of it to be pretty riveting.
Another reason Steve Jobs doesn’t by any means feel like a definitive document of the man (which it clearly isn’t trying to be), is its structure and the events it covers. The film takes place in three distinct segments, each taking place backstage before one of Jobs’ many product launches — in 1984 for the launch of the Macintosh computer, in 1988 before the launch of Next, and then in 1998 prior to launch of the iMac. Two out of the three products here were more-or-less failures in the public eye, which maybe doesn’t do much to illuminate the many triumphs of the man, but I think do effectively illuminate the internal creative and personal struggles of Steve Jobs, or at least whatever version of him Sorkin and director Danny Boyle are deciding to portray here.
And the Steve Jobs we get here, much like the Mark Zuckerberg of The Social Network, is a difficult visionary who is often unwilling to bend or break whatever vision he has for the people around him. The person who spends the most of the movie’s running time talking to Jobs is Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet), who for all I know could’ve been a completely fictional character just constructed for the film, but was in fact quite real and was known as one of the few people to work at Apple capable of standing up to Jobs, which the film suitably paints her as. Jobs’ other verbal sparring partners come in the form of John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the Apple CEO who fired Jobs’ from his own company; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), Apple’s contentious co-founder; and his ex-wife (Catherine Waterstone) and daughter Lisa, whom Jobs spends most of the movie denying money to. And that’s pretty much all of the characters in the film (Michael Stuhlbarg occasionally shows up as Andy Hertzfeld), which combined with the film’s minimal locations, makes the film feel a lot like a stage play (despite not being based on one) and yet at the same time effortlessly cinematic.
Now let’s talk about Michael Fassbender for a bit. For the past few years, he’s established himself as one of the new faces of prestige movie acting, as he clearly has an effortless presence and charisma onscreen, and has yet to really play an entirely likable leading-man type. Fassbender’s Jobs of course is no where near as unseemly as his sadistic slaveowner in 12 Years A Slave or the wallowing sex-addict of Shame, but he is more often than not a consummate dick that contains little in the way of seeing beyond his own aspirations and ego. Much of this is exemplified by his inability to accept his alleged daughter Lisa as his own, as well as his inability to accept his buddy Woz, or anyone else in his life as responsible for the success or innovations of Apple. And I wouldn’t say it ever feels like Fassbender is doing an impression of Jobs, and instead much like Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, feels more like a vessel for human ambition propelled by snarky intelligence rather than the real guy. Which is maybe a bit questionable with a more public figure like Steve Jobs, but nonetheless makes for a character that’s uniformly riveting and hard to take your eyes off of.
And I would say for the most part, this is a film that’s hard to take your eyes off of. Danny Boyle has established himself as a director with a particularly kinetic style, and apart from a few visual flourishes that are somewhat Boyle-esque, I think Sorkin’s densely talky script keeps these tendencies at just the right level of hyperactivity. However, I will say that both Boyle and Sorkin do sometimes have a tendency to let themselves get a little treacly at times, and the film’s ending veers a little too far into that territory for my tastes, especially when the film’s 14-year timespan would indicate that Steve Jobs was always a dick and was always going to be a dick, which the film’s somewhat fluffy ending attempts to undercut. But the fact of the matter is, I am always going to be prone to hearing this kind of smart, tightly-constructed banter onscreen, since it’s not just that we don’t get enough films like these nowadays, it’s that they’re practically extinct. I guess blame it all on people’s inability to take their eyes off their god damn iPhones.