By Nick Anstett
Ever since his untimely death in 2011, the world has been fascinated with the story of Apple founder and technological business guru Steve Jobs. Whether it is due to his outrageous success or his enigmatic personality, Jobs has commanded the public eye for decades. This spawned a biopic that was poorly realized and critically and commercially unsuccessful shortly after his passing in 2013 simply titled “Jobs,” starring Ashton Kutcher. Two years later, director Danny Boyle and “The Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin attempted to do the man justice.
“Steve Jobs” unfolds as a film in three acts. It distills Jobs’ life, played by Michael Fassbender, into a series of three product launches: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NEXT in 1988, and finally the Apple iMac in 1998. Sorkin uses this structure to provide a dramatized and palatable representation of Jobs’ turbulent personal and professional life. In particular, his relationships with his close business partner Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and his daughter Lisa are highlighted to demonstrate Jobs’ shifting attitudes, loyalties, and emotions.
Sorkin crafts “Steve Jobs” into a sleek, sexy, and enthralling biopic. It’s nonlinear and creative narrative structure allows for the audience to absorb information in a way that’s intuitive but also subconscious. For better or for worse, Sorkin’s screenplay plays out much like one of Apple’s products. It is entirely engaging, easy to access, visually stimulating, and well packaged in a way that hardly any other film is attempting in the current market. There is also a strange artificial and even superficial aspect to its presentation. Never once does Sorkin’s script depict what seems to be an accurate representation of reality. The neatness of the narrative represented in the clever, cinematic dialogue, the overly convenient structure, and the perhaps too seamless mirroring makes for satisfying and beautiful filmmaking, but never once does it feel like an attempt to capture actual human life. For a biopic starring one of the most public business personas of the last 50 years, it is a movement that aims to undermine the effort on display.
Luckily, “Steve Jobs” barely gives you time to contemplate this in its run time. Between the scripts seductive nature and Boyle’s creative direction which employs variations in film grain to highlight different periods in time, there is much about “Steve Jobs” to love. What makes the film so hard to step away from are its performances. Fassbender in particular finds the middle ground of drawing inspiration from the man he is mirroring without marrying himself to his eccentricities. Instead, Fassbender’s Jobs is a man dominated by an untested ego but struggling with a deep insecurity and need to be wanted. Fassbender builds upon Sorkin’s work to make his relationship with his daughter Lisa, who is played by three actresses throughout the film, the emotional through-line for Jobs’ erratic behavior. It works wonders and does a great deal to humanize a man whose legacy and demeanor often demand the opposite. Winslet’s dutiful but eternally frustrated Hoffman marks for the most impressive role out of “Steve Jobs’” supporting cast. She disappears into the role of Hoffman arguably even further than Fassbender does his and by doing so achieves a naturalistic presence that makes her one of the film’s most surprising and rewarding aspects. Rogen also surprises us by shedding his stoner comedy type-casting for a role with surprising dramatic depth and heart.
Even with its flaws, there is something endlessly watchable about “Steve Jobs.” Whether it’s through the creative direction, the daring script, or the depth and magnetism in the performances on which it centers, it is a hard film to turn away from. Perhaps in the end, it shares more in common with its leading man than it likes to admit. It is loud, creative, insightful, and perhaps too smart for its own good, but also seems to command a legacy that may stretch for longer than we expect.
Photo courtesy of thefilmstage.com