Prior to seeing this film, you must sign a ridiculously long-winded Apple agreement. Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Academy Award winner Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels star in Steve Jobs.
Cast of Characters:
Steve Jobs – Michael Fassbender
Joanna Hoffman – Kate Winslet
Steve Wozniak – Seth Rogen
John Sculley – Jeff Daniels
Andy Hertzfeld – Michael Stuhlbarg
Chrisann Brennan – Katherine Waterston
Joel Pforzheimer – John Ortiz
Andy Cunningham – Sarah Snook
Director – Danny Boyle
Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin
Based on the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Producer – Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon & Scott Rudin
Rated R for language
Set backstage before three critical launches during the career of Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT box in 1988 and the iMac in 1998 – Steve Jobs follows the behind-the-scenes moments of the Apple co-founder, particularly his volatile relationships with his employees, CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), marketer Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), fellow Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and his paternity feud with ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston).
You couldn’t pay me enough to use any of Apple’s i”Insert product name here” devices the millions of cult-like lemmings line up for hours and hours outside of Best Buy to purchase, and yet Steve Jobs was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Despite the insane levels deification the late tech company giant received (brilliant businessman, but the “Nerd Jesus”, as comedian Bill Burr referred to him as, was no Einstein, Edison or Tesla like many think he was), there’s still no denying the complex and influential figure that he was, and in the right hands a compelling picture could be made about him. When you attach to this film a name like Aaron Sorkin, who previously humanized another polarizing figure with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, you’ve definitely earned my attention.
Once again, as he did with The Social Network and Moneyball (co-written with Steven Zaillian), Sorkin has penned one of the best films of the year.
Even with a name like Sorkin attached, Steve Jobs faced quite an uphill battle with all its pre-production issues. Sony Pictures first acquired the rights to Walter Isaacson’s biography, bringing on David Fincher to direct and Christian Bale to play the title role, but contractual disputes led to Fincher walking, and eventually Danny Boyle was hired to take his place. Bale left the project, and reportedly was re-cast again after Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper were in discussions for the part, but then left once again. The difficulties were only beginning. In the midst of the Sony’s hacking fiasco with Guardians of Peace, the studio pulled the plug on the project. Shortly after, Universal stepped in an acquired the project.
Unlike most biopics where they follow the cradle to the grave format, Steve Jobs takes a page from Love & Mercy, which focused on two key moments of Brian Wilson’s life, by focusing on Jobs’s behind the scenes conflicts with key figures in his life just prior to three pivotal product launches. Having the same primary characters show up at each event to hash out their issues is a storytelling conceit that could’ve backfired as a repetitive gimmick, but Sorkin’s sharp dialogue, Boyle’s equally sharp direction and an electrifying cast all at the top of their game ease any concerns there. Aside from a final few minutes of neat bow-tying (by no means a deal breaker, but you expect a conclusion a tad less conventional for someone as enigmatic as Jobs), it’s a daring gimmick that works beautifully.
Sorkin doesn’t canonize Jobs, nor go out of his way to make us like him. Most everyone knows that Jobs was an ass to his employees and colleagues, and for a time, was never on the list of nominees for “World’s #1 Dad” either. But as he did with The Social Network’s Mark Zuckerberg, an equally ironic figure who lived and breathed digital communication yet couldn’t interact personally to save his life, Sorkin provides insight into what made the former Apple head honcho tick, something the 2013 Ashton Kutcher version, Jobs, delved into no further than skin deep (while not horrible, a version this good highlights just how mediocre Kutcher’s film was). Steve Jobs is neither portrayed as a Messianic hero or demonized villain like his fans and critics think of him as. He’s simply a man that’s driven to a fault.
“Your products are better than you are.”
“That’s the idea.”
Considering how great of a job he did putting together The Social Network, I was disappointed upon hearing of David Fincher’s departure, but Danny Boyle, who I’ve been a big admirer of since I saw Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, and who also did a great job in retelling Aron Ralston’s story in 127 Hours, is a more than worthy replacement. Sorkin’s screenplay and Michael Fassbender may be the two stars of the film, but Boyle, a surefire candidate for Best Director, isn’t just some hired gun here. His unique style and energy brings the backstage drama and politics to life, gliding in and around the settings like a figure skater (no one loves hallways and people walking and talking in hallways more than Sorkin). In another nice touch, each act of the film’s “trilogy” is given a distinct visual look. Act I in 1984 was shot in 16mm, Act II in 1988 was shot in 35mm and Act III was shot in digital. A visual gimmick, yes, but it’s a terrific touch of visual evolution that adds an extra bit of personality to the film.
Even while donning the trademark black turtlenecks, belt-less jeans and New Balance sneakers, German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender looks as much like Steve Jobs as Samuel L. Jackson does George Washington (or Brad Pitt and Billy Beane), but he will surely be in the conversation for every Best Actor award for his superb performance which perfectly captures the ego, arrogance, drive and motivation of the iconic figure he is portraying. Looks or no looks, Fassbender’s mesmerizing presence will leave viewers spellbound.
Though this could’ve been solely Fassbender’s show, he’s backed up by a first-rate lineup of supporting players who each get a moment to shine under the spotlight. Kate Winslet gives by far her best performance since her Oscar-winning turn in 2008’s The Reader as Jobs’s confidante who’s oftentimes the voice of reason and the only one capable of standing up to him (in real life Hoffman won a satirical award at Apple for “the person who did the best job of standing up to Jobs”, an award that even Jobs himself though was funny). Jeff Daniels (who knows how to work Sorkin’s dialogue ’cause of Newsroom) is award-worthy as John Sculley, the former Pepsi-Cola CEO turned boss/father figure to Jobs.
Seth Rogen will probably be the big surprise for most viewers who already expect great work from Fassbender, Winslet and Daniels. Rogen’s done some slightly dramatic work before in 50/50 and his performances in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and Funny People had more layers than just the usual stoner chuckles he’s known for, but this is by far the strongest work of his career.
Those worried Seth’s “Rogen-isms” will get in the way need not worry here (as much as I like most of his films, some are obviously crap, I understand his detractors in that, like Jesse Eisenberg, he tends to play the same character in every movie).
As with Sorkin’s other works The Social Network and Moneyball, liberties are taken with Steve Jobs for the sake of dramatic impact, but if you can put aside the difference in appearance between Michael Fassbender and Jobs, then a little artistic license in the name of compelling filmmaking should be no issue. Though it covers only a small spectrum of the subject’s life, Steve Jobs is nevertheless an engaging portrait, led by the trifecta of Danny Boyle’s direction, Sorkin’s screenplay and Fassbender’s performance, that succeeds in being just as complicated, infuriating, unconventional and brash as the man it’s remembering.
I give Steve Jobs an A (★★★½).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
10/26/15 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
10/27/15 Benjamin’s Stash
10/28/15 Top 10 Horror-Comedies of All-Time
10/31/15 Our Brand Is Crisis
10/31/15 Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension