Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels
Genre: Biography, History
Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc. died in 2011. Since then there have been three different movies released about the man’s life. Okay, one of them was satire, but still. It was only two years ago that we saw Ashton Kutcher try his hand at portraying this figure who was once raised to an almost mythical status.
So why have another biopic so soon? What’s left that we don’t know about the man? What’s the point? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you for sure. But, my best guess is that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Newsroom, The West Wing) wants you to know that Steve Jobs was a jerk.
The plot of Steve Jobs is weaved against the backdrop of the forty minutes or so before three of the biggest product launches of Jobs’ career: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Machine in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.
During these timeframes where Jobs is preparing to go up on stage, we see how Steve’s (Michael Fassbender) relationships evolve with his VP of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his one-time partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his boss and father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisanne Brennan (Katherine Waterson). We witness Jobs react to successes and failures over the years and how the man treated those around him.
Language: This is where the movie earns its R rating. The F-word is used liberally, along with all the other cuss words that you can find in more limited quantities in a PG-13 film. There are also multiple instances of sexual innuendo and metaphor.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol References: A vintage bottle of wine is referenced.
Spiritual Content: There are a few instances where Jobs uses Christian allegory to make a point. There are no arguments for or against Christianity, but the Bible is referenced. Because this was written by Aaron Sorkin, I get the feeling that this was sarcastic and playing on the fact than many saw Jobs as a messianic figure.
So you know of Steve Jobs, and by now you probably know that he was not the nicest of people. You might not know that he had a daughter out of wedlock, and for many years refused to claim her as his own. For the most part, this film is about those two things. We see a lot of Jobs yelling at people and being the caricature nightmare boss movies usually use as a joke. Fortunately if you don’t idolize the man then it plays very well. He’s not sympathetic, but he is most certainly compelling, and occasionally a little piece of a likeable human being peeks through.
If you’re not interested in learning a little more about Steve Jobs, you might not be quite captured by the film. At its core, Steve Jobs is different conversations that vary in intensity. There isn’t any action per se. Because of the way the film is framed, it has to be entirely predicated upon engaging performances, slick dialogue, and some creatively shot and edited scenes. Luckily the movie can check every one of these boxes, but it did stick out to me midway through the film that I was exclusively watching heated conversations.
Also, even though this is a biopic, however loosely, it still features characters that undergo growth the way that humans do. The growth of our main character doesn’t really happen until the end, and even then feels cheap and rushed.
Speaking of the performances, Michael Fassbender does a characteristically fantastic job. I remember that after I learned that he was playing Jobs, I mused that he was too cool for the role. The man is still enjoying a run as Magneto as he is set to play Altair in the new Assassin’s Creed movie. He’s got a natural cool factor, which could have been a problem when playing someone famous for being a nerd. To counter this, Fassbender uses a voice that at first made me laugh, but really does sound like Steve Jobs and was completely consistent throughout the film.
Winslet as Hoffman is just fine. She does a great job with the emotional scenes but I have to knock her for slipping in and out of an Eastern European accent. You have to commit to either having it or not. Seth Rogen is surprisingly endearing as Steve Wozniak, and definitely my favorite character in the film. I was worried he might stick out as Seth Rogen, but he does an admirable dramatic job and Jobs’s spurned partner. Jeff Daniels does a typically good job, bringing the emotion when it counts but also being a more level-headed rational figure.
Sorkin’s writing gives each character plenty to work with so it’s easy to get a feel from them despite the compressed time frames. I strongly doubt that Steve Jobs made as many quips or quick jabs in real life, but in this film the sharp dialogue works well, which is necessary for a film predicated on conversation.
To spice things up, Boyle throws in some cool editing moves, like interspersing two related but time-displaced scenes within each other. My favorite scene in the film, about halfway through, was done this way, and it was used to great effect. I appreciate using techniques like that to enhance what could have easily been a boring film.
Steve Jobs really shines in its music. Composer Daniel Pemberton does a beautiful job with enhancing the numerous scenes of back and forth. It’s great when films can convey emotion without the aid of music but in this case it’s really great music, so I’ll give it a pass. The performances are very good on their own, but it’s the music that really elevates this film.
While I don’t think that I would suggest one goes out of their way to see it, I do think that this film is a worthwhile experience. Despite my complaints of the lack of a true purpose and being comprised nearly entirely of conversation, the performances are so good and the dialogue so well done that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
It’s well-directed, well-written, well-acted, well-edited, and believe or not, those conversations will keep you engaged for a solid two hours. I’m not in the camp claiming that this film is a Best Picture contender, but I do concede that this is a very good film.
The Bottom Line