From the minute it begins to the minute it ends, Steve Jobs is alive. The world it creates is a sloppy, beautiful machine constantly on the verge of collapse, kept breathing by the arguments, confessions, jokes and triumphs of a variety of flawed yet fascinating people. With an outstanding cast, riveting dialogue and sharp filmmaking, Steve Jobs is not just a complex look into the life of its title character, it’s also an endlessly entertaining symbol for the way we view our own lives.
At this point, most people should at least be familiar with Apple founder Steve Jobs. He’s a modern icon and multiple documentaries and films have already been made about his life. Instead of repeating the by the book synopsis most of us already know, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle show Jobs through three different yet similar moments in his career.
Every part of the movie takes place before Jobs is about to do a speech announcing one of his products. In the first act set in 1984, Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is preparing with the help of his friend and confidant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) for a big speech to announce the Apple Macintosh. 40 minutes or so from going on stage, he faces difficulties including a glitch in his computer, requests from frustrated Apple co-creator Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), financial troubles involving his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and a young girl named Lisa who may or may not be his daughter. In the second act in 1988, Jobs is about to make a speech announcing his eventually disastrous NeXT computer. During this time, he deals with continuous fights with Wozniak and Chrisann as well as anger from being fired from Apple by his friend John Scully (Jeff Daniels). In the third and final act in 1998, a much older Jobs has returned to Apple and become the CEO. He confronts friends and foes one final time before his announcement of the game changing iMac computer.
Because of how the story is told, there isn’t a single moment of the movie that’s slow or giving you time to rest. From the first few seconds, people are talking and from then on there isn’t a scene that goes by where characters aren’t having conversations over a variety of subjects. Jobs and Hoffman will start talking in one room and then they’ll continue the conversation in the elevator and then by the time the conversation is over, they’ll be in a completely different room than when they started and then Jobs will begin talking to someone different. The movie is three streams of consciousness taking place from the point of view of the main character at these different points in his life.
This method could be obnoxious or unsatisfying in the hands of lesser writers, directors and actors but in the hands of such a talented crew, the way they set this up becomes rather brilliant. As I said at the start of the review, every moment in this world feels like it’s constantly on the verge of collapse. Each moment of the film is leading up to something that could significantly change the lives of the characters on screen. Steve Jobs and everyone around him are working down to the wire and they all seem like they’re on functioning on the edge. Watching these people unravel and fight under pressure can be chaotic and overwhelming, but it’s from its madness where the beauty of the movie comes from.
In the third act, Steve Jobs tells Hoffman that it seems like everyone waits until the last second to express their true feelings. This is a truthful line because to Sorkin, the chaos of this situation is us at our most human. Life can sometimes feel like we’re constantly waiting behind the scenes before a big show happens. It’s sloppy, unfiltered and its bits and pieces of anger, rage and arrogance mixed in with bits and pieces of love, humor and forgiveness. It’s never perfectly designed and oftentimes it can be hard to follow along with. One minute Jobs will be threatening to destroy Scully and the next second he’ll be wishing that they had kept their friendship alive. In one scene Jobs is the apple of his daughter’s eye and in the next she’s grown up to resent him. Everything in Steve Job’s life is temporary and there’s nothing around him that remains a certainty in the three points where we’re seeing him. There’s birth and death, and the in-between are these jumbled, imperfect cries for intimacy in a world that’s an unstoppable flood of data and information for you to pick up on and analyze. In Steve Jobs, the 40 minutes before the big event takes the absurdity and the uncertainty of life and shows it at its most bare and grandiose. The slow parts are cut out and what were left with is a pure rush of only the most horrifying and tragic and inspiring things that make us alive.
This storytelling also makes for an amazing interpretation of the type of person Steve Jobs was. At the end of the story, you’re not supposed to love or hate the guy. There are some times in this movie where you can make the argument that he was a terrible person. The relationship he had with Steve Wozniak is especially difficult to watch as Jobs refuses to respect and give credit to the person who arguably built most of the things that made him famous. Elements of the relationship he has with his ex-girlfriend and his daughter are disgusting as again, he has trouble treating them like they’re human beings. Still, there are also plenty of times where he tries to show sympathy and generosity with these very people. What makes this movie different from all the other biopics about flawed historical figures is that it doesn’t attempt to show Steve Job’s character arc as being some perfect, straightforward line that went up or down. The presentation of his life here is less like a summary and more like a series of photographs that aren’t in any real order.
You get to see moments of him being awful but you also get to see moments of him where he was trying to love and show respect to the people around him even when he couldn’t show it in the same way others did. It doesn’t try to make you judge him in any way; it only tries to show him as sincerely as possible. Amidst the tension of the events, we see a glimpse of a man who lived for that edge and never seemed to be able to understand a simple life. In the quest for immortality, he couldn’t become a good person on the inside and he could never live up to the hopes of the people around him for long periods of time. In the loud yells and arguments he built himself from, we see a lost soul who knows what he has become and tries at times to act like a good person even though knows he can’t sustain that behavior forever. He shares a hug with his daughter at the end of the 2nd act but you can tell in his eyes that he knows that the peace he feels in that moment won’t be around for long. The film version of Steve Jobs is a passionate, lively mess that was as successful as he was a failure.
Beyond the greatness of its story, the movie also has an ensemble for the books. Michael Fassbender kills it as Steve Jobs, he performs his accent perfectly and he does an astounding job delivering Sorkin’s dialogue at an energetic pace. It’s wasn’t so much a great Steve Jobs impersonation as it was an excellent portrayal of a conflicted person. After multiple failed projects, it’s also good to see Kate Winslet in another good movie giving an excellent performance. In the film, she has to carry a Polish accent and she manages to deliver the part with authenticity even though a lesser actor would’ve made it seem goofy or awkward. After Labor Day, Insurgent and Movie 43, Winslet was owed a movie of this level of quality. Though many adored her for her role in Inherent Vice (don’t get me wrong, I love that movie to death), I think it’s this movie that has finally made me realize what a talented actress Katherine Waterston is. In the first two acts, she is wonderful as the almost equally damaged mother of Jobs’ daughter. It’s usually a thankless role but she gives the part a lot of weight.
Lastly, I want to mention the two equally impressive supporting actor performances from Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen. Both parts are great but for different reasons, one of them is playing the best version of a performance that they usually give and the other is doing something completely different than the other performances that they usually give. Seth Rogen is a man usually known for being the loud stoner but as Wozniak he plays against character and becomes the outspoken, humble “Ringo” to Jobs’ “John” as the movie puts it. He seems like one of the few people in the movie who is decent so when he finally erupts and fights Jobs about who really created Apple, it feels heavy and it gives Rogen room to deliver the best performance he has given in his career so far.
Jeff Daniels is beginning to get type casted into playing the tough but fair boss in many of the shows and movie he’s in. Unlike Rogen, he plays the same part in Steve Jobs that he usually does but I think this part gives him much more to work with even though it’s not a part that’s seemingly unique for him. The fight scene he shares with Fassbender is topnotch acting from the both of them and a conversation he shares with Jobs at the end of the film was a pretty tragic testament to the inability to change the mistakes that were made in the past. When Daniels says something along the lines of “god I wish we worked together”, I’ll admit my eyes got a little bit misty.
Finally, I think Boyle and Sorkin deserve some credit for making something incredible even though there careers have been mostly hit and miss for me. I think both of them can make a good movie when they’re given good material to work off of. But when you leave both of them just to their own devices, you end up with something like The Newsroom or Trance. In the case of Steve Jobs, both of them seem to be balancing each other out so that their styles are present but never grating. Though it is very witty, Sorkin’s dialogue feels much less flashy than it has looked in the past. Boyle’s direction is still larger than life but it’s also a lot more restrained here than it was for his clearly manipulative work for Slumdog Millionaire. I thought one of them would screw this whole movie up for me but luckily it turned out to be a near close to perfect match.
In a rooftop scene near the end with Jobs and Lisa, he has a heartbreaking line where he tells his daughter that he was poorly made. This candid moment brings together the true message behind the entire film. Through all the eccentricities, Steve Jobs was just one of billions of people looking for purpose in a world without any.
Though it isn’t the all-time masterpiece The Social Network was, Steve Jobs is still spectacular. There is so much about the movie to love and from start to finish it’s this emotional ride that at times even took me away from the fact that I was in a crowded theater. In three briefs glimpses into another world, Sorkin and Boyle take us into the heart of a flawed yet beautiful individual.
Release Date: 10/23/2015
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston , and Perla Haney-Jardine
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Screenplay by: Aaron Sorkin
Based on the Book by: Walter Isaacson