With all due deference to his accomplishments, Steve Jobs’ career isn’t something I thought I needed to see a movie about. Faithful biopics generally make for uneven films, and how the hell can a dork making computers make for an exciting movie? Well, leave it to eminent screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) and maverick director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Sunshine) to crack the code.
Rather than taking us through a selective chronology of Jobs’ life, Sorkin’s screenplay focuses exclusively on three product launch events: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988, and finally the iMac in 1998. This conceit forces a lot of events and revelations to happen at times they did not in real life, but it also gives urgency to the storytelling that would otherwise be lacking. We come to appreciate Jobs’ career decisions and marketing savvy through his behind-the-curtains arguments with staff and acquaintances at these three big events.
Kate Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ long-suffering aid and head of marketing. She bears the full brunt of Jobs’ megalomania, but is also the only person who can successfully confront him when necessary. Jeff Daniels plays John Sculley, the CEO of Apple with whom Jobs’ has a rocky, complicated relationship. Seth Rogan and Michael Stuhlbarg play Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld, two more men who try and fail to swing Jobs’ favor.
If Steve Jobs is starting to sound like a giant asshole, that’s kind of the whole point of the movie — to crack through his armor and find the human being inside. Kate Winslet’s character does some of that, but most of his character’s transformation is instigated by his daughter, played by three different actors throughout the movie.
Michael Fassbender gives a commanding performance as Jobs. As mean as he is to the other characters, you definitely get a sense that he still respects them to varying degrees. His scenes with Jeff Daniels are the most volatile, ranging from career-ending deceit to bare-naked soul-laying.
Director Danny Boyle occasionally employs some intrusive stylistic choices, most notably mixing film stock and projecting imagery behind the actors. But he largely — and thankfully — hangs back and lets the actors do their thing. And that’s the main reason to see this movie — to watch a great ensemble cast do service to Aaron Sorkin’s fast and furious repartee. Learning a little bit about Steve Jobs and Apple is a bonus.
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Fassbender), Supporting Actress (Winslet)