Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs brings audiences backstage at 3 of Apple’s major product launches to show the personal and professional problems that plagued the Apple CEO at these key points in his career.
The film basically takes the structure of a 3 act play with each launch representing one of those acts. It starts with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 then moves to his non apple venture the NeXt Cube in 1988 and concludes with the launch of the iMac in 1998. The connective element through all 3 eras is Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) who is frantically followed backstage moments before each of these launches. Each launch is given equal significance taking up roughly a third of the running time each. Other than some flashbacks to important events the viewer remains in the moment with Jobs. The flashbacks are well used and provide just the right amount of information to deepen the necessary moments.
Written by Aaron Sorkin the dialogue moves about as quickly as anyone would expect Aaron Sorkin dialogue to flow. Pretty much every line is meticulously crafted to be both witty and relevant in a way that feels completely unrealistic but nonetheless completely fits. Every single exchange in this film is incredibly compelling and gives a lot away about the rich characters.
Steve Jobs is characterised as being a cruel man who needs to have everything go his way. In the first act he goes as far as threatening to tear down engineer Andy Hertzfeld’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) reputation for being unable to get a voice demonstration to work to show how friendly and welcoming his computers are. He is a challenging presence to say the least but people aren’t at all shy about telling him that. In this particular discussion Hertzfeld holds his own and insists to him that the demonstration isn’t essential but Jobs won’t have it. His unreasonable nature plays a significant part in all of his discussions with people.
The film attempts to partially explain Jobs’ behaviour as being an extension of severe abandonment issues stemming from when he was given up by his real parents and adopted as a child. It’s something that crops up again and again so seems to inform everything that he has built in his life and everything he wants to build in the future. He is trying to measure himself against an impossible yardstick in some ways so continually strives to be better.
Another side to Steve Jobs is drawn through his relationship with his ex Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) who shows up at given points in the film telling a tale of woe around how destitute she and the daughter that almost certainly belongs to Jobs despite his mathematical arguing against the possibility. There is clearly more to the story than we see and certain elements of Chrisann’s treatment of their daughter are mentioned but never fully explored. Since the purpose of the film is to take a snapshot of the life of Steve Jobs at these pivotal moments it completely makes sense that the story of his ex and -maybe- daughter isn’t explored in great detail. Chrisann offers a good antagonistic presence and the film cleverly challenges the viewer to take her side when she doesn’t seem to be any better a role model for their daughter than he is.
Jobs’ relationship with his -maybe- daughter creates an important connective link through all of the launches. She appears at all of them played by different actresses and the sharp dialogue quickly establishes what has been going on in her life since the last time we saw her. Outside of Jobs’ cruel nature he does seem to genuinely care what happens to her hence why he encourages Chrisann to take better care of herself and by extension her daughter. He chooses to help out for his daughter not his ex.
There are three main influential figures in his work life. Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslett) is a long suffering “work wife” who caters to his every whim and tries her best to get him to see reason. She of course fails miserably most of the time but she has a thick skin likely due to years of working so closely with the ego that is Steve Jobs. Winslett is really good in the role despite a really patchy accent that comes and goes as the film goes on. The weirdest thing about her character is that the accent gets stronger as the film progresses which is pretty much the opposite of what would be expected. She is a good foil for Jobs as she seems to have his trust without actually being able to get through to him. Every attempt is made to make him change his mind about certain things and her frustration comes across clearly.
Another influence in the life and career of Steve Jobs was Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). They have a very tense relationship that seems to be built on a sense of respect. Jobs convinced Sculley to move from Coca Cola to Apple and forged a personal connection with him over the years. It becomes a big deal to Jobs when Sculley has him fired from his own company due to his obsession with the failing Macintosh and results in the best scene in the film when the two men have an open and frank discussion about the decisions that led to Jobs being fired. It’s very apparent that this was one event that really hit Jobs hard. Jeff Daniels exudes the necessary confidence and authority for this role and really comes across as a man who is very cut throat in the business world. He is very similar to Jobs but definitely has better people skills.
Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is shown to be a man that Jobs respected enough to concede creative input on the successful computer known as the “Apple 2”. All he ever wants is for Jobs to acknowledge the team that made that computer a reality but needless to say Jobs refuses to do it. He is broadly a futurist so looking to the past is completely counter to the persona he has crafted. Steve Jobs is not at all sentimental about any of his past successes so is an immovable object on the subject which naturally frustrates Wozniak.
Seth Rogen is surprisingly great in this role taking a vast departure from his tedious comedy roles and showing some real acting range as he plays off Fassbender like a seasoned pro. The best scene between these characters is one that takes place in an orchestra pit where Wozniak asks Jobs what it is he does exactly.
It’s a well known fact that Steve Jobs did very little in terms of the creative process. He had vague yet incredibly specific ideas for what he wanted out of a product and then gave it to the minds that could create that for him. As Jobs puts it in this film he plays the orchestra instead of the instruments. It’s a wonderfully poetic image that clearly shows his inability to actually build anything but his talent for getting the best people to do it for him. Whether it’s right for him to take the credit can be argued and this film doesn’t really come down on it one way or another. Both sides of any argument are presented with the viewer encouraged to make up their own mind. One thing is certain, the results that he managed to get through knowing the right things at the right times cannot be argued with. The film even hints at his ideas for future technology that would definitely happen. Whether he had the idea at the time or not I don’t know but it does help flesh out how forward thinking this version of Steve Jobs is.
I’m not sure that this film can really be called a biopic as all research points to the events being highly fictionalised. The film even makes light of the convenience around all of these personal issues converging on Jobs at these important career moments for him. This allows for some real creative license such as Fassbender not really resembling the man he is playing and allowing him to craft his own version of the man. I would say that the essence of him is there but not the mannerisms. I personally don’t know much about him as he was but judging by my limited research it would seem that accuracy wasn’t foremost on anyone’s mind when making this film. One thing I can say is that Fassbender is excellent in the role. He delivers the dialogue flawlessly and puts across the attitude necessary every step of the way.
The only thing that brings the film down is the ending seems a little too sentimental for what had been previously established. There’s a softening to Jobs in the final moments that really makes no sense given the man that has been built up before that point. It’s not a deal breaker but does create a confusing end to an otherwise excellent experience.