Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Rated R for language
2 hr. 2 min.
Steve Jobs is one of those individuals who seem to attract devotees and haters in equal fashion. In addition, he himself deliberately cultivated a marketing mythology about his prowess and his products that left us all wondering: Who is the real Steve Jobs?
Director Danny Boyle gives us a peek inside the man’s chaotic mind and tackles the questions about the reality and myth of Jobs’ life. As always, it’s Jobs himself who seems to elude these questions but, thanks to Boyle’s insightful work, along with writer Aaron Sorkin’s tight script, we get a sneak peek into the man’s obsessions and his notorious refusal to compromise his ideology.
Steve Jobs is set up as a theatrical presentation. Starting with the release of the Macintosh in 1984 and ending with the introduction of the iMac in 1998, the story has definite time frames and acts. Act One (1984) portrays Jobs as the young innovator whose tech visions have yet to catch up with his technologies. The film opens with a roaring debate among Jobs (Michael Fassbender); his marketing specialist, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); and his programmer, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) about why Jobs’ tech team can’t get the Mac to verbally say “Hello” just minutes before it’s revelation to the public.
Act Two (1988) deals with Jobs being fired from Apple and his comeback with his supposedly new product, NeXT. More bluster than reality, we eventually learn that Jobs has created this company and its famous black cube computer for nefarious reasons. While the operating system turns out to be revolutionary, the reason behind its creation is much more Machiavellian.
Act Three (1998) finds Jobs as a highly successful man ready to introduce the revolutionary iMac. But Jobs’ past is haunting him. His estranged daughter, Lisa, wants nothing to do with him. His old boss, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) reminds him of the truth behind his firing. And his former partner, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) demanding that Jobs acknowledge those who created the Apple II, tells him that being appreciative and being successful are not mutually exclusive. “You can be decent and gifted at the same time,” he says.
Though some background in computer history might help, you don’t have to be a techie to enjoy this film. What’s important about Steve Jobs is the monumental drama that sweeps us into the inner workings of Jobs’ personal life: his pain over being adopted, his refusal to acknowledge his own daughter, his obsessive struggle with control issues, and his cantankerous nature, all framed against his vision as a designer.
Director Boyle understands this and takes pains to frame Jobs’ face and body against the very technology he’s trying to sell. Paired with the rapid-fire dialogue written by Sorkin, Boyle seems to catch Jobs’ flame in both body and word and maintain its intensity throughout the film.
That same flame is also found in Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Kate Winslet as Hoffman. They battle back and forth like Virginia Woolf partners George and Martha. Toss in Seth Rogen in a rare dramatic appearance as Wozniak and Michael Stuhlbarg as the quiet but equally determined Andy Hertzfeld, and you have the potential for a few 2016 Oscar nominations.
Does this film get us any closer to the real Steve Jobs? Slightly, though nothing about Jobs’ marriage or eventual illness is mentioned. But who are we kidding? Jobs himself was an elusive coyote — hard to catch, even more difficult to tame. The best we can hope for are glimpses of him in the wild.
Boyle has done just that, pieced these glimpses together into a story that turns history and computer technology into something downright Shakespearean. “That way madness lies,” said old King Lear. For Boyle and those who observed Jobs, madness and beauty were close at hand, equal partners in his rabid quest for perfection.