Steve Jobs is either a messianic genius or an arrogant tyrant depending on whom you ask. I can’t exactly hate the guy considering he’s partly responsible for the device I’m currently typing this review on, but even if he wasn’t a nice guy I find it’s always best to separate a man from his work; if we judged all accomplishments based on the people who did them, we’d probably disregard half of history’s great minds.
Steve Jobs the film is an interesting look into said mind of the infamous creator of Apple, and one that thankfully doesn’t coat the departed innovator in any particular shade of paint. Contrary to popular belief, Steve Jobs is not a biopic. Though aspects of Apple’s founding are covered in flashback sequences, it is essentially three long scenes that each take place before one of Jobs’ famous product launches.
It’s structurally more reminiscent of a three-act play, with tension rising and falling within these separate pieces as individual sections that are only interweaved by brief newsreels covering the time gap. Story beats definitely carry between the three acts and tell a greater overall story together, but each of the sections function perfectly well on their own.
The structure of each of the segments are incredibly similar and does result in some déjà vu as the second and third pieces progress, but the content remains strong enough that it never becomes a deal breaker. Typical of an Aaron Sorkin film, Steve Jobs is incredibly dialogue-heavy but it’s so incredibly well-written and performed that you forget most of the movie is just Jobs bickering with his subordinates.
The film is full of captivating propulsive energy as each argument leads into the next, each line ripe with that repartee and wit that only Sorkin can pull off well without looking like an overly linguistic smartarse. But beyond the talk of operating systems and corporate jargon, Steve Jobs is a very sweet and endearing film about a man trying to come to terms with fatherhood in a way only Steve Jobs would do.
Michael Fassbender looks absolutely nothing like Steve Jobs but that should never really matter; remember, Ashton Kutcher looks almost exactly like Jobs and look how his biopic turned out. The job of a good actor is they inhabit the role so well that you forget that watching you’re watching isn’t real and, whilst Fassbender never quite breaks that boundary of reality, he delivers an incredible performance regardless.
His Jobs is as pernickety, obsessive and unmanageable as you’d expect, but he also adds enough humanity and sympathy to his portrayal that you can understand his plight. Like all great films of this ilk, it doesn’t try to cast its focus character in a particular light but rather simply show you the man and lets you judge him for yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you like or hate Jobs as a person or a character; all viewpoints are valid.
The supporting cast is also phenomenal across the board, with even smaller players like Jon Ortiz and Sarah Snook getting their moments to shine. Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak is a particular standout, performing as a character that allows Rogen to stretch into more dramatic fare without losing his loveable laidback persona, and he knocks out every argument he finds himself in with Fassbender.
Kate Winslet loses herself in the character of Joanna Hoffman, balancing perfectly her loyalty to Jobs and her annoyance with his attitude, and Jeff Daniels’ John Sculley steals every single one of his brief scenes. Danny Boyle is known for his distinctive style and, whilst Steve Jobs is certainly a far more reserved film visually that some of his other work, he does incorporate a lot of inventive ideas.
Most notable is the evolution of the cinematography, with each segment being shot in a different format; 1984 is shot on 8mm, 1988 on 16mm, and 1998 is filmed digitally. Even to a layman, the visual difference should be noticeable and it gives each section a visual aesthetic that makes the time jumps even clearer. The camerawork beyond that is far more reserved than Boyle’s usual work, with far less handheld and odd angles in favour of simple static shot-reverse shot; it’s ultimately for the best, as this is a film where dialogue is king.
The period detail in the costuming is also helpful in distinguishing the eras, and Daniel Pemberton’s score does a good job of keeping pace and tension especially during the more heated scenes. Also, any film that uses a Simpsons clip gains bonus points in my book. Much like Sorkin’s The Social Network, Steve Jobs takes a story that doesn’t seem interesting at first and turns it into a captivating drama that even people with no interest in the subject matter will find fascinating.
Sorkin’s writing is as engrossing as ever and makes as solid a match with Boyle’s directing style as he did with David Fincher. Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs is amongst the finest of his career, and the supporting cast matches him at every turn. Whether you love him or hate him, this is exactly the calibre of film a man like Steve Jobs deserves and I don’t think any other attempt at telling his life story will match up to this.