Director: Danny Boyle
Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz
Rated R | 121 Minutes
Release Date: October 9, 2015 LA & NY | October 23, 2015 Nationwide
When Steve Jobs was alive, it was hard to imagine a world without the inspirational inventor introducing us to one of his latest Apple product, yet somehow the tech giant’s legacy is still going strong four years after his passing. Jobs wasn’t exactly open about his life, thus making it hard to figure out the man behind the machines. Director Danny Boyle‘s Steve Jobs, from Aaron Sorkin outstanding screenplay adapted from the 2011 biography, as well as his own interviews, gives the world a way to get to know who Steve Jobs is, and how he saw the world.
Steve Jobs isn’t your traditional biopic. It’s broken into three major events in Jobs’ life all taking place 30 minutes in real time before the product launches of LISA, the NeXT, and iMac. And what makes it all captivating is the fact that in those three 30-minute pre-launches, we get to see a man who is clearly the smartest person in the room reveal himself to be a vulnerable yet headstrong man with a clear vision of bringing technology to the masses while creating a legacy that only a few could ever dream of.
Sorkin beautifully crafts Steve Jobs by focusing on three key moments of the iconic inventor’s life, the launching of three products. These project unveilings are essential components to the story and to the development of Jobs as a person, at least the way that Sorkin depicts it. From the time the short intro interview about the early computer ends, the film hits the ground running and never looks back. The film’s first act has hypnotic instrumentals that draw you in. Then we see Michael Fassbender‘s engaging performance as Steve Jobs putting you in that final trance.
That first act helps establish Jobs’ personality as a whole. Jobs knows what he wants and if he doesn’t get the desired result, there will be hell to pay. He drives his team with a strange method of tough love that includes making threats and motivating them using metaphors of Russian Roulette. Clearly the support staff are unaccustomed to such tactics, but in their boss’s mind, they aren’t seeing the big picture. In fact, few even understand what he is truly trying to accomplish. Meanwhile, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) wants Jobs to acknowledge the team that built an older model which helped Apple be what it is at that time; Mac software designer Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) can’t get LISA to say hello; and Apple chief executive John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) is underscoring the board’s concerns. The only one who seems to really get Jobs is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who stays with him through thick and thin throughout all the years of the company’s near death and rejuvenation. As his only friend and consort, Hoffman manages Jobs’ emotions and communicates to him that he cannot treat others the way he thinks he can.
Adding pressure to all of this is the shunned ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and his daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss, then Perla Haney-Jardine). When we see the production launch of LISA, we are introduced to Chrisann and their daughter Lisa. Clearly, Jobs didn’t envision having a family, and denies that Lisa is his daughter while publicly shaming Chrisann in an interview with Time magazine. There is a viciousness to Jobs as we see him explain how it was a coincidence that the product and his “illegitimate” daughter share the same name. He even goes as far as giving the LISA product an acronym, to which he even has to explain to Lisa. She may not understand the vitriol of shame and embarrassment that he is spewing out as Chrisann watches in horror, but as Jobs watches in amazement at what Lisa is able to do on LISA, we start to understand that Jobs may be a tortured genius.
In the second act, we see that Jobs has been effectively fired from his job for disagreeing with the board on the features for Apple’s new model and where the company should go from there. He was forced to start his own company, NeXT, where he created an educational computer shaped like an odd cube. Jobs seems to have an ulterior motive, and no one seems to know what it is. John Sculley, who was the one who pulled the trigger on Jobs’ termination, was there to congratulate him on his new endeavor only to get into a verbal sparring match. But as you will have seen in the first act, no one can win one of those, even if your own company kicked you out. When these two would go at it, it’s a no-holds-bar argument that is beautifully crafted, but in the end Jobs is still the smartest person in the room.
By the time the third act comes, Jobs has climbed back from the brink of corporate embarrassment. Sitting back on top of Apple, Jobs is nasty as ever. Still making threats, still won’t acknowledge the old team, but wait, changes are abound. Scully sees what Jobs was trying to do, and is effectively outsmarted by Jobs when asked about his adoption and biological father. But he is still at odds with Woz, and now has managed to find himself at odds with Lisa. As he tries to make amends, he admits to her that he is “poorly made.”
It would have been interesting to see what kind of approach David Fincher would have had when the film was temporary under his vision. But director Danny Boyle uses the his signature tracking shots and the obscure camera angles to put the audience on edge. There is an intense energy with the way Boyle shot the film, and Sorkin’s script is like an extra shot of adrenaline. That sense that we are seeing the film in real-time minutes before each product launch gives us that glimpse of what it must have felt like to see the pressures of getting someone on stage with a working product on time. This changes the way we see any biopic. Recent biopics have covered a key event and the sometimes many moments that lead up to it. But with Steve Jobs, Sorkin’s script cuts through all of that and focuses on the minutes leading up to the product launch, with some exposition flackbacks interjected.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Sorkin has covered powerful names: The Social Network revealed a great deal of many things about Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg.
Steve Jobs sports a powerful and eclectic cast, with Michael Fassbender clearly in the driver’s seat. Kate Winslet’s performance is as essential to Fassbender’s as it helps maintain the film’s humanistic balance. She provides a sense of groundedness and realistic expectations as opposed to Jobs who thinks on a whole other level. She is never one to back down from a verbal sparring match, and in fact can go toe-to-toe with Jobs. But it’s her role in the third act that truly shows what she is capable, which is more than enough to show that Jobs has the capacity to be afraid.
Throughout those three stages of the movie, we see an evolution. Each one using a different film stock (16mm to 35 mm to digital) to represent the different technological advances of that decade and mirror the growth of each character. Though it may not look like Steve Jobs cares about anyone but himself, it is Joanna who is the only one who is able to understand who Steve Jobs is, and Lisa is the only one who can bring down his guard. With his iconic status, the film shows us that Jobs was a broken man and a tortured genius, but becomes someone that the world hardly ever saw. That evolution is what makes Steve Jobs even more fantastic to watch.