Film Review – Steve Jobs
It’s strange to see recent history of which you have actual concious memory portrayed on screen. Boyhood had that effect, where you were struck with nostalgia for a mere 5 years ago. And that effect does happen in the new film Steve Jobs. Pretty much everyone has been effected by the Apple company and it’s various products. Their launches of new products have become media events, they’ve made us reevaluate design and our relationship to devices, a large chunk of the world is running around with iphones in their pockets. So the impact of Jobs himself can’t be underestimated. And watching the milestones of Apple’s history shown in a movie can be a surreal trip down memory lane.
This is not a comprehensive biopic. If you want to know everything about every aspect of this enigmatic figure’s life, look to the various books or documentaries about him. Aaron Sorkin‘s script is almost play-like in structure. The movie is told in almost real time in 3 distinct pieces that are the ramp up to pivotal product launches. The first is in 1984. The famous Big Brother Superbowl commercial has everyone talking about the new Macintosh and Jobs is about to reveal it to the world. The second section has him unveiling the Black Box that he made at his own company Next. And how does that product go over: spoiler alert, we aren’t all walking around with black Next phones in our pockets or reading books on our Nextpads. Finally, the finale is dedicated to when Jobs was back at Apple announcing the iMac. It’s weird to have distinct memories of all of these things launching and yet also seeming like history.
Now, even though this is all based on fact, the film surely takes liberties with how compressed all of the character revelations into these roughly 30 minute chunks. A lot of drama happens in each timeframe. Jobs had a daughter for whom he denied responsibility for the early part of her life. A lot of this film deals with that relationship or lack thereof used as a window to see what motivated this man. There is some thought given to his own upbringing of being adopted and how that may have colored his views. Steve Jobs was a genius, but he was also flawed.
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs is magnificent. He may not be an exact lookalike of the famous figure, but you can see the essence of the Apple CEO in his performance. He’s subtle, brilliant, irritable, and very egotistical. One of the best lines in the film is when he is berating for not getting the first Macintosh to use it’s speech synthesizer for the launch. He tells them that while they had 3 weeks to make it work God made the Universe in 6 days. The reply is “Someday you’ll have to tell us how you did it.”
The supporting cast is wonderful. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the earlier CEO of Apple who backed Jobs initially and then ousted him gives the film a lot of pathos. After The Newsroom he must’ve gotten a taste for delivering Sorkin dialogue while wearing an expensive suit. Kate Winslet is believable as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ right hand woman and most loyal partner. Michael Stuhlbarg continues his freaky ability to at times look like Robin Williams as he plays Andy Hertzfeld, a key Engineer at Apple. Most surprisingly, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak is outstanding. This may be Rogen’s best acting to date. He has 3 key scenes with Jobs and makes each one of them count. Wozniak was the soul of the creation of Apple and theoretically the nicer guy. He might not have been sold as quite as visionary as Jobs, but he is largely a genius in his own right. And the scenes between the two play a lot like the arguments between Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Severin in The Social Network. It’s a similar dynamic of two friends who created something together but the figurehead with ambition leaves his technically minded partner behind. The dynamic between Woz and Jobs is fascinating to watch.
I’ll fully admit my bias. I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing and this is a very Sorkiny script. You have the signature walk and talks, the half completed sentences that feel scripted, the rapid fire quips, smart characters making speeches of great import, and everyone involved convinced they are a part of the most important institution that exists. That last one is a real Sorkin staple. Whether it’s a newsroom or a Presidency or a military courtroom or a sports newscast or, at his worst, a late night comedy show, his writing always shows people with a firm belief that they are doing the most important work in the world. And I get the criticisms of him: his characters tend to all sound the same, some feel that he overwrites, he gets caught up in endless speechifying. But there aren’t many places you can go to get entertainment that is as smart and engaging as you can with Sorkin. David Mamet has had similar criticisms lodged against him about being stilted and overwritten, but I would say both writers are unique voices that actors love to dig while the audience truly gets something out of it.
Danny Boyle’s direction keeps things lively and moving. He injects surreal images in certain scenes that help illustrate what’s going on as well as news items that help place the scenes in context. These are such controlled scenes that this could almost be a play, so it’s nice that Boyle is able to help break it all up a bit with flashbacks.
Steve Jobs was an innovator who in a key scene quotes a conductor: “The musicians play the instruments, I play the Orchestra.” That concise metaphor is the essence of how Jobs worked. And this film is a fun and fascinating peek into his world.