Those expecting to learn a great deal about Steve Jobs should seek another avenue. Try the 656-page Walter Isaacson biography, which screenwriter Aaron Sorkin gathered material from for his screenplay. Documentarian Alex Gibney released a film chronicling Jobs’ life about a month ago (which I have not seen).
This is actually my first foray into the life of Jobs. I skipped the critically panned “Jobs”, starring Ashton Kutcher as the titular character. I haven’t read any of the books or even scanned his Wikipedia page. Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” will not make me an authority on the subject.
But that’s fine. I can backtrack and see the documentary or read the books to learn more, which “Steve Jobs” has made me want to do. That’s not a dig at the film for not including enough information because Boyle’s film is a stunning piece of filmmaking and Sorkin’s script is very specific in its intentions. The two wizards of their domain have collaborated on a film about computers and hard drives and made it all seem so urgent, so effortlessly thrilling.
Sorkin’s screenplay is divided into three years. The first is 1984, when Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is getting ready to introduce the Macintosh. He is panicked because he is about to present the computer to an auditorium filled with people and the machine won’t say “hello”. The first 30 minutes of the film feature Jobs berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) to get the machine to say “hello” before he goes on. Jobs’ head of marketing and all-around guardian angel, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), tries to get him to realize he might be acting ridiculous.
Things don’t pan out for Jobs at Apple and in 1988, he is preparing to present his own creation called NeXT. It’s a failed attempt to branch out on his own, despite being so confident that the perfectly cube-shaped machine will be a major hit. He wants to show the world that he did not need to be a part of Apple to revolutionize the world. In the audience, former Apple boss, John Scully (Jeff Daniels) and friend and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), are present to see the unveiling of Jobs’ latest creation.
The last leg of the film takes place in 1998, when Jobs is back with Apple and ready to launch the iMac. It’s a full-circle kind of moment for Jobs, who thinks anything he touches will turn to gold, despite having a track record of a few misfires. But as I type away on my MacBook Pro, I know he clearly did something right.
“Steve Jobs” is not a piece of hero worship for the tech giant. He revolutionized the way people connect and communicate and yet he was a prickly man to work alongside. Everything had to be his way and at his command. People often rolled their eyes or talked behind his back but he didn’t care. He wanted to change the world and if that meant hurling a “fuck you” here and there than so be it.
Jobs was clearly a methodical man, who cared a great deal about his work. Such dedication to his creations came at the expense of having a relationship with his daughter, Lisa, who is played by Makenzie Moss at age 5, Ripley Sobo at age 9 and Perla Haney-Jardine at age 19. For years, Jobs shot down claims that he was Lisa’s father, even though her mother, Chrisann (Katherine Waterson), assured him he is.
Fassbender is astounding as Jobs, clearly headed towards a Best Actor nomination. Fassbender is one of those actors who is all-in when portraying a character, whether it be a Manhattan sex addict or a vicious slave owner. Outside of his slender frame, Fassbender doesn’t look much like Jobs but plays him with such convincing ferocity. It’s one of the best performances of the year.
Winslet gives one of her best performances in some time as Joanna. Jobs needed a person like Joanna at his side. She is always ready to set him straight and tell him what he should be doing even if he refuses to. She is a strong-willed woman who never cowers to the larger than life figure. Rogen is sympathetic as Wozniak, who is often in Jobs’ shadow. Rogen is given a great scene in the third act of the film and he delivers with such sincerity.
Boyle infuses every frame of the film with such visual zeal, capturing each moment from a different camera angle. Boyle brilliantly chose to shoot the film using three different formats: 16mm film for 1984, 35mm for 1988 and digital for 1998. None of this is trickery but simply keeps the movie feeling kinetic. Sorkin’s script is expectedly great, featuring all of the great signs of a Sorkin screenplay. While the movie is set up to have the audience witness the three unveilings, the 1998 portion feels a bit weak in that it tries to shoehorn some drama in quickly – a minor qualm in a stellar, fast-talking and energetic script.
“Steve Jobs” will garner several well-deserved nominations from many different awards outlets. It’s a movie that allows us to be backstage when life-changing inventions were being brought into the world. As Boyle navigates through the hallways behind each stage, we feel like we are in the moment with all of the characters. Think of it as a techie-“Birdman”.
‘Steve Jobs’ rates 8 out of 10