Over the past few years, one of the films I’ve been looking forward to most has been Steve Jobs. From the moment that Aaron Sorkin was announced to be writing the film, my anticipation was high and, whilst all the issues of the film surrounding who would be directing and who would play Jobs were beginning to overshadow it, this anticipation never faltered, especially after it was announced that Danny Boyle would direct and Michael Fassbender would play Jobs. So after watching the film, did it live up to my own incredibly high expectations? I would say that it did and I would class this as one of the best films of the year.
The film doesn’t follow the traditional biopic structure of seeing the whole life of Jobs presented to us, which is what Jobs with Ashton Kutcher did a few years ago. Instead the film follows a three act structure with each act focusing on the events that took place backstage prior to the launch of major products Jobs developed: the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998, with one flashback in each scene to provide key context for the characters. In each of these acts, the life of Steve Jobs gets reflected back to us through his relationships with 6 key people: Joanna Hoffman, the head of marketing at Apple and NeXT; Steve Wozniak, the co-developer of the Apple II and the Macintosh with Jobs; John Sculley, the CEO of Apple; Andy Hertzfield, one of the major engineers for the Macintosh; Chrisann Brennan, the mother of Jobs’ daughter and Lisa Brennan, Jobs’ daughter. This focus allows us to see the change in Jobs’ nature over this 14 year period and it is Jobs’ nature that makes the film so compelling. Simply put, Jobs is an arse. He’s condescending, arrogant, egotistical, unwilling to give credit to anyone else, except to use as a threat when things aren’t going his way by crediting people for what goes wrong, distorting everything so that it all goes back to him, focuses on the wrong details and cruel and this plays into the product launches. The film posits that the failure of the Macintosh and NeXT can be traced to Jobs’ attitude at the time he developed them culminating in the backstage events at the unveiling and he only truly achieved success when he started to embrace people more. This is best scene with the timing for the presentations. For the launch of the Macintosh and NeXT Jobs refuses to delay them even by a minute, but he is willing to do so for the launch of the iMac to fix a relationship. The film also shows how the flaws of Jobs create systems that will fail because of their incompatibility. It states that the Macintosh and NeXT failed because they were too closed off, they weren’t able to be upgraded and they cost too much which made them uncompetitive in the market and this reflects the nature of Jobs, closing himself off to people, unwilling to accept the help of anyone else. This closed nature though brings in a element of sympathy to Jobs through his background as an adopted child, feeling abandonment issues and wanting the control he felt he lacked. This though reflects back to Lisa and Jobs refusing to recognise her as his daughter for years, with all of Jobs’ issues regarding his own upbringing being shown through his rejection and his unwillingness to take responsibility. The film also shows the intelligent, conniving side to Jobs, mainly in relation to NeXT, both in terms of his arrogance getting the better of him which led to him being dismissed from Apple leading into NeXT and designing the OS for NeXT specifically so Apple can bring him back.
All of these elements are captured together brilliantly in another expertly crafted script by Sorkin. When it comes to writing people like Jobs, incredibly intelligent but blisteringly arrogant, no-one does it better than Sorkin. His signature style comes across brilliantly through the dialogue, with a lot of great dark humour present, along with a strong sense of humanity. Throughout the film I got the sense that Sorkin felt more sorry for Jobs than respectful. There’s a clear understanding of Jobs’ flaws and his unwillingness to accept them, culminating in his rejection of Lisa for years. There are also points where Sorkin shows that he doesn’t agree with Jobs, mainly in relation to Wozniak, clearly siding with Wozniak in the scenes Jobs and Wozniak share together, making Jobs out to be the bad guy for refusing to credit people even though it was the right thing to do. This is a film where the script truly is the star.
That’s not to say the actors aren’t stars, if it wasn’t for the skill of the acting, the script wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did. Michael Fassbender, whilst not looking or sounding anything like Steve Jobs, works really well as the character, in much the same way that Anthony Hopkins worked as Richard Nixon even though they didn’t look anything like each other. For someone like Jobs, it requires an actor with a strong presence, able to convince the audience of the skill the person has on stage and how he was able to work with three major product launches and Fassbender has this presence. He does a great job showing the arrogant, egotistical side of Jobs and the damage that this has done to himself and the people around him brilliantly and is able to show the change in Jobs to becoming more open in a way that feels incredibly believable. Of the people surrounding him, the clear standout is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman. Throughout the film, she’s the only one that is truly able to understand Jobs, the only one who can get through to him and understand the way he thinks. She’s also one of the few people willing to stand up to Jobs and shows the damage that Jobs is doing brilliantly. Winslet is also one of the main reasons why we are tempted to like Jobs for the majority of the film, her performance showing the emotional heart of Apple and of Jobs, acting as his conscience for most of the film, getting him to understand that a lot of the things he’s doing are wrong and Winslet is brilliant in this role with the subtlety in her performance feeling like a natural fit for the more bombastic performance from Fassbender. The most showy role in the film though goes to Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. Most of the Sorkinisms in the script go to Rogen and he nails the dialogue. He also brilliantly shows how the friendship between Jobs and Wozniak fell apart over the years due to Jobs’ arrogance and unwillingness to credit the Apple II team, along with voicing the concerns over Jobs’ insistence of a closed system, which are ultimately founded. His best scenes are when he calls out Jobs, highlighting just how little Jobs actually did in relation to the development of the computers at Apple and the anger Rogen shows over the arrogant, condescending nature of Jobs feels like the culmination of long held resentment and Rogen puts all this across brilliantly.
Another one of the more emotional performances in the film comes from Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, acting as a father figure to Jobs in the early years, supporting Jobs’ work and understanding what Jobs wants to do. He also shows a lot of frustration over Jobs, particularly with Jobs’ arrogance and the damage that Jobs does to people, with the flashback in the second act being the best example of this and being one of the highlights of the film. Michael Stuhlbarg does great work as Andy Hertzfield, his frustration with Jobs at the start of the film coming across brilliantly, along with anger over how Jobs treats him. He also presents himself as a really kindly figure, particularly in relation to Chrisann and Lisa. Speaking of Chrisann, Katherine Waterston does good work, mainly her anger over Jobs’ refusal to recognise Lisa and how Jobs is a multi-millionaire but he wouldn’t do anything to support his family. When Chrisann’s state of being starts to decline, Waterston does a great job with this, which works well with Fassbender’s show of anger over how she acts. As Lisa meanwhile, Makenzie Moss; Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine do great work, Moss showing more of the innocence of the character which lets you understand why Jobs eventually recognised her as his daughter, Sobo shows the frustration over her situation and how uncomfortable everythin around her is and how Jobs and Chrisann not paying her much attention is damaging her and Haney-Jardine does a great job at the end letting out all of the anger she held towards Jobs brilliantly, particularly her anger over Jobs wanting to control everything about her and her mother’s life and the way Jobs talked about her when she was younger, showing how the abandonment issues that Jobs felt could easily have been passed on to Lisa.
On a technical level, Danny Boyle does a solid job directing. He’s not quite the perfect fit for Sorkin’s dialogue that David Fincher was for The Social Network but he still does a really solid job, especially during the standard, and numerous, walk-and-talk segments. The main technical element utilised for the film was the use of different film styles for each of the acts. The 1984 segment was shot in 16mm, the 1988 segment in 35mm and the 1998 segment on digital HD cameras. This gives each of the segments their own distinct look to stop them all merging into one and I think this works really well. Part of it is that I love the look of film compared to digital cameras and I feel it works on a narrative level. The acts where Jobs is more of the bully and feels betrayed without understanding the betrayals he committed are more murky, more grainy to reflect Jobs’ state of mind. When he comes to understand his flaws, the film brightens up and becomes clearer to show the clarity in Jobs’ mind. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t Boyle’s intention but that’s what I brought into the film. I also have to mention the music which does a great job in setting the scene and reflecting the emotions felt by Jobs throughout the film, perfectly matching the overall style of the film.
Overall, Steve Jobs is another great film for Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin. The tech world feels like one of the few worlds where Sorkin’s particular dialogue style fits the personalities of the people inhabiting the world and with Steve Jobs, like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, it shows how Sorkin thrives writing people who are arrogant and egotistical and don’t know that they are. All this is aided by top notch performances with Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen being the standouts. This is easily one of my favourite films of the year and comes highly recommended.
My Rating: 5/5