Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
In my review of Burnt I wrote about the concept of the tortured genius and how that particular film had demonstrated a generic example of the idea. Steve Jobs on the other hand demonstrates a tortured genius done right. The Steve Jobs of this film is clearly a brilliant man with a singular mind. His ideas are radical and revolutionary, his thought process is dynamic and rapid, and he is always always always on. His exceptional mind is matched only by his colossal ego. Jobs is arrogant, narcissistic and disdainful. He resents anyone and everyone who cannot keep up with his ideas or doesn’t recognise his brilliance. He demands perfection from his subordinates and anything less is unacceptable and unforgivable. He is a man who simultaneously provokes an exponential amount of admiration and resentment from those around him and will alienate just as quickly as he will inspire. I have absolutely no idea whether this portrait is indeed an accurate reflection of the real Steve Jobs but, even if it isn’t, the subject of this film is nevertheless an endlessly fascinating figure and I very much enjoyed watching the film’s exploration of his psyche.
The film is set backstage at the launches of three products developed by Jobs at different points in his life: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. All three acts take place in real time as Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) coordinates these events while dealing with the key figures of his life. Amongst them are his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his loyal confidant whose position compels her to stand up to Jobs when no one else can; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the co-founder of Apple and perhaps the only person Jobs considers to be his friend; and John Scully (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of Apple who throws Jobs under the bus and then pays for it. The issues Jobs has to deal with extend to his personal life as well as he must also deal with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of his daughter. Each of these figures brings out a different side of Jobs and allow for a comprehensive exploration of the complex figure that has had such a resounding effect on them all.
This film is not so much a biopic as it is a character study. Instead of taking us through the life of Jobs from beginning to end, the film favours a format that allows us to understand him as a character. Watching him at work in real time provides an insight into how he thinks, how he acts and how he interacts with others. He is presented as a man who is incessantly thinking about a million different things as once and who is always on the move and always focused on the task at hand. Anyone who isn’t an asset to him is either an obstacle or is irrelevant, and Jobs doesn’t have any time for either of those things. However, by setting the film in three different time periods, we do see an evolution take place. Each period marks a different point in Jobs’ life as he experiences his optimistic inauguration, his greatest failure and his eventual triumph. Through it all I think it might be a bit too far to say that Jobs changes as a person, but he does learn a few things about himself. His perception does go through a change as he starts to find value in other things besides his ideas, particularly in his daughter. It isn’t a substantial change but it is a significant one.
The real star of this film is Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue. The rapid back-and-forths, the intelligent discourses and the impassioned monologues provide the perfect engine for telling a story of this kind. Through the quick and witty dialogue Jobs is able to establish himself as an exceptionally intelligent and charismatic man who can speak faster than most people can even think. What struck me about this film was how balanced it was in its portrayal of Jobs. While it depicts him as a wholly remarkable genius, it doesn’t let him off the hook for his antagonistic tendencies. Many of the characters resent Jobs and for good reason. The way Sorkin is able to praise Jobs’ greatest qualities while also challenging his worst allows for an intelligent and thoroughly absorbing analysis of a complicated man with a complex mind.
One of the things that makes Steve Jobs such an enjoyable film is that, much like Jobs himself, it never stops moving. It is always going somewhere, it is always saying something and it always doing something interesting. What essentially amounts to 90 minutes of people talking is able to be stimulating, creative and exciting through excellent writing, subtle directing and great acting. Fassbender may not look anything like the real Steve Jobs but his on-screen presence and portrayal of the man’s ingenuity and tyranny is not to be doubted. While the rest of the ensemble is superb, Fassbender nevertheless deserves to be singled out for his stellar performance. Through him Steve Jobs was able to deliver a stunning picture of an extraordinary man whose keen intellect and artistic vision revolutionised computer technology as we know it.