You probably have some sort of Apple product in your house, or even on your person—unless you were one of those people who thought the Zune was the way of the future. The influence of Apple—and thereby Steve Jobs—is felt every day, but nobody really knows who the man was. Danny Boyle attempts to crack the callous, unruly shell of the man who is equal parts genius and artist. Electrifying us all the way through is Aaron Sorkin’s stimulating script delivered, for the most part, by a monumental Michael Fassbender in perhaps his strongest role.
There is one major element of Steve Jobs that people will have problems with, so let’s get that out of the way first. The film is structured by three acts—each one focusing on the 30 minutes or so running up to a Keynote Address. Set in 1984, ’88, and ’98, it attempts to bring in important people in Steve Jobs’ life and have him interact with them backstage before the event. The result—four compelling and scathing interactions in each act between Jobs, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the CEO of Apple John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), one of his lead designers Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg), and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) the mother of the child, and their daughter herself. The issue is that none of these interactions happened this way in reality, potentially making this feel like a forced character study, but if you accept this you will find an exhilarating character study with all of your signature Sorkian dialogue.
To say that Michael Fassbender owns the movie is an understatement—he is this movie. Hardly 15 seconds go by where he doesn’t speak. His presence is imposing, tyrannical, but you still cannot take your eyes away from him—he is just that good. Fassbender may not look like Jobs, but he captures the spirt you hear about so often. The film doesn’t dig too far down into what really makes him tick, but there are some allusions and references that help you understand what led him to be so harsh. If you’re looking for an easy, by the numbers look at his life, perhaps read the riveting biography by Walter Isaacson that the film is based on, because this is not a “biopic”–it is a character study for three distinct time periods in Jobs’ life.
The rest of the supporting class deserves high praise as well. Not only do they have to keep up with Fassbender, but they also have to establish themselves as valuable to the film in their first interactions with Jobs. Kate Winslet is the other actor we see most often—she plays Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ marketing executive. She is the only person in the film to truly understand who Steve is. She can bear with his tirades, debilitating insults, and his unrealistic demands. There are a few scenes in there that remind us what a phenomenal actress Winslet is. Waterston is also effective as the mother of Jobs’ daughter. There is a lot of pain in her role, and she handles it with constraint.
Rogen is great as well. His character does not do much other than encourage Job to mention the team that made the Apple II so great—something he refuses to do. There is a lot of backstory there, and we only get a glimpse of it through flashbacks, but it certainly feels akin to the relationship between Zuckerberg and Saverin in The Social Network—former best friends who let business and success get in the way. Stuhlberg delivers on the wry, cutting humor in an almost unrecognizable role. As the lead designer, he has to answer to all of Job’s outrageous demands, which ultimately leads to tension and more. Daniels plays more or less a father figure of Jobs. Like the other characters, there is a lot of pain and tension, but it is played out differently here because Sculley can actually stand up to Jobs and fight back in his own way.
Steve Jobs asks a lot of its audience—more so than most movies of this caliber. If you don’t accept the method of storytelling, you might want to move along. For those who accept it, you will be treated to some of the best acting this year has to offer, a brilliant script, and a hard look into the man who saw technology as an art and a way for us all to be better, smarter people. Steve Jobs is iNcredible.