Steve Jobs (15)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet & Seth Rogen
Running time: 122 min
Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.
There’s a very poignant moment in the third act of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs when Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) says to the titular genius (Michael Fassbender), ‘I’m tired of being Ringo, when I know I’m John.’ It’s a statement that lays bare both the immense gifts and alienating flaws of the mastermind behind the iPhone you’re probably reading this review on. Throughout Boyle’s triptych depicting three critical junctures in Jobs’ career, we get an enthralling portrait of a visionary leader who was both brilliant and heartless, incredibly innovative yet cruel and strikingly devoid of emotional connection with those around him. Indeed, at one point, Jobs yells “I’m like Julius Caesar – surrounded by enemies.” While it’s true that leaders and pioneering minds will always have detracted and, dare say enemies, Aaron Sorkin’s script never deviates from a laser-sharp focus that portrays Jobs in a way closely aligned with the reports that have emerged since his untimely passing in October 2011; he was a bully, he was neglectful and disrespectful whilst craving the absolute respect and attention of everyone around him. It’s at once fascinating, thrilling and admirably balanced.
Centred on Jobs as he prepares for the product launches of three of his most instantly recognisable creations – the Apple Macintosh premiere in 1984, the NeXT Computer launch in 1988 and the unveiling of the Apple iMac in 1998 – the narrative zips along with all the fluidity and harmony you’d expect from a Sorkin piece of writing (The West Wing, The Social Network). We are immersed into the earlier days of Apple when Jobs was a terrifying and terrifyingly impressive virtuoso leader with quixotic visions of the future. We see him argue with his marketing guru Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), scold his chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) for a malfunction in the Macintosh’s “Hello” voice demo and repeatedly deny that he is the father of Lisa, the five-year-old daughter of his ex-partner Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston). Instantly, we are struck with the image of this uncompromising, unassailable dignitary who refuses to alter or shape his grandiose plans for any amount of technical glitch or familial quagmires.
While the film is acutely zoned in on three specific moments of Jobs’ career, we are fed with interspersed fragments of his memory, revealing the wonderment era of the Jobs/Wozniak dream team when they are thought up the design for the Apple ii from their garage. There’s more too, like Jobs’ toxic and career-battering relationship with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple CEO from 1983 to 1993, who Jobs convinced to leave Pepsi in order to act as the link between Jobs and the boardroom at Apple. The story is now as infamous as any in his life but the scenes between Daniels and Fassbender depicting Jobs’ banishment from his own company are a joy to behold. Bravura acting, long takes deployed by Boyle to let Sorkin’s thunderbolt dialogue flow and a dramatic darkening in the surroundings (the film is set predominantly in the glow of computer lights and backstage of course) all serve to construct the lowest moment in Jobs’ career. It’s riveting stuff. It’s unapologetically brash, too, when unleashing an apocalyptic deluge cascading down the windows of the Apple boardroom when Jobs is informed of their decision to sever his connection with them.
The acting really elevates the film to dizzying heights. From Fassbender’s epic turn at the heart of the film to the brilliant array of supporting talent, this is a two-hour clinic in how to draw your audience from the word go. Winslet is superb as Hoffman while Daniels plays Scully with panache as the incompatible suit at odds with Jobs’ grandiose visions. Even Rogen shows a genuine sense of dramatic heft in creating a Wozniak constantly lobbying for recognition and, to a certain degree, respect.
But what remains constant throughout the film is Jobs’ relationship (or disturbing lack of) with Lisa. From the moment when she paints something on the Macintosh aged just five to leading a frantic Jobs to the rooftop in the dying moments before the iMac launch, Lisa is always fixated as a major focal point of the story. The struggle to build a relationship with his daughter to match the ingenuity in which he builds his machines adds a captivating dimension to Jobs’ already mysterious and disarming personality. Sorkin’s point is evoked with clarity and resonance; Jobs made himself an expert at forming and shaping the relationship between man and machine, but he never quite cracked that of human-to-human. There is a moment when, astonishingly, Jobs admits a fault to Lisa: “I’m poorly built,” he says with a look of penitence smacked across his face. It showed a more humane side to the same man who told Hertzfeld he was “indifferent” towards how people felt about him and afforded the film a more penetrating dissection of a man who, while universally hailed for his feats in advancing the concept of personal computing, was always delineated as a “hurtful and insulting” man (circa Wozniak’s comments to the press in the fallout from Jobs’ departure from Apple in ’88).
The one cautionary note from this film is that it’s by no means an all encompassing biopic, sweeping through everything from birth to death and everything in between. If you want an absolute picture of who Jobs was, you’ll need Walter Isaacson’s book from which the film is loosely – and I stress loosely – adapted or Alex Gibney’s documentary from this year Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. What we have got from the directorial/screenwriting/ acting trinity of Boyle, Sorkin and Fassbender is a terrifically engaging and surprisingly funny film that dichotomizes its subject matter into both the irrefutable mastermind and emotionally impenetrable man he was.
4 out of 5 nerds