Steve Jobs

Posted by Joel Copling on September 24, 2015

An expectation commonly projected toward the traditional biopic is that the project will hagiographize its subject rather than approaching him or her with genuine honesty. "Steve Jobs" isn't entirely innocent of this, particularly in an opening-credits roll-out of news footage regarding the titular creator and founder of Apple and a final sequence that sheds a literal spotlight (which, of course, is also a figurative one) upon Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) as he faces another crowd to announce another generation of technological advancements in communication and media. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, a wordy one as per usual from the man who brought us 2010's "The Social Network" and NBC's "The West Wing," is a delicate balancing act, shying away from nothing in regard to Jobs's infamously standoffish attitude but humanizing the man in ways of which that other biopic about him from merely two years ago could only dream.

This is a biopic as a triumvirate of moments integral to Apple's success. In 1984, Steve is unveiling the Mackintosh computer after unexpected failure with the Apple II. Keeping time with an announcement and exhibition of the Mackintosh ("Mac" for short), which he wants to greet the audience to show a machine that is friendly (The tech team, led by Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, is given forty minutes to do three weeks' work), Steve's ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) fights to prove that Lisa (played here, at the age of five, by Makenzie Moss) truly is his daughter, a fact that he adamantly denies.

In 1988, Steve is asked by Chrisann to babysit Lisa (now played, at the age of nine, by Ripley Sobo) while overseeing the production of a cube-shaped computer for his new company NEXT, to which he fled after being fired by Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). In 1998, he's back with Apple after tumultuous deal-making, legal issues, and financial letdowns with NEXT to introduce a new generation of computer (as well as a way to "put music in [the user's] pocket," as he explains to a 19-year-old Lisa, now played by Perla Haney-Jardine). All the while we get a sense of this man--human and damaged, but perhaps only human in his flaws and damaged in direct proportion to his ego. As depicted here, he was not a kind person and even less of a noble one.

Sorkin's job, then, is to fence this dichotomy between celebrating the man's achievements and observing his self-stroking egotism (This is one of the many problems of which the aforementioned other biopic about Jobs was guilty by instead apologizing for his egotism at the expense of his achievements). A huge help on this front is how Fassbender plays Jobs as a man who can only keep his emotions bottled up for so long before they come tumbling out of him. When Chrisann brings up a comment he made about his paternity in regard to Lisa's parentage, he can only strike back with sarcasm. When his faithful assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) tries to bring reason into a discussion about Lisa's legal rights, the conversation inevitably ends with her threatening to quit and never see him again. When Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) once again asks for decency toward the design team for the Apple II, it becomes an excuse to air out the company's legal and financial issues in a public forum.

The result is a symphony of discord among tortured souls on a world stage. Sorkin and editor Elliott Graham are in harmonious rhythm here, cutting between timelines with only a single intertitle but never losing a bit of steam in the dialoguing between characters (There is a clever bit wherein Steve and Sculley have separate, incredibly complex, minutia-driven discussions of, respectively, the end and beginning of an movement within the company with which only the most attentive will be able to keep up, so consider this your warning, reader). Director Danny Boyle, usually one for flamboyant visual style, is quieter on that front here, allowing the words to breathe more than the images, although cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler's images are striking, particularly when they juxtapose Steve against a disorienting crowd of people or the monolithic screen on which are performed demos of the new technology. "Steve Jobs" gets to the heart of this man and his demons, and it does so with some wicked talking.

Film Information

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Kate Winslet (Joanna Hoffman), Jeff Daniels (John Sculley), Katherine Waterston (Chrisann Brennan), Seth Rogen (Steve Wozniak), Michael Stuhlbarg (Andy Hertzfeld), Sarah Snook (Andrea Cunningham), John Ortiz (Joel Pforzheimer), Makenzie Moss (Lisa Jobs at 5), Ripley Sobo (Lisa Jobs at 9), Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa Jobs at 19).

Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Walter Isaacson.

Rated R (language).

122 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 9, 2015.