The structure of the film is kind of a brilliant way to reimagine the biopic, focusing on three major product launches in Steve Jobs’ life, the drama behind the scenes digs into all of the drama that has played out throughout his life. So you get Jobs having five overarching conversations throughout the years, with the same individuals, and each person offers an entryway into different levels of Jobs’ life and psyche.
The mainstream opinion of Steve Jobs has sort of evolved over the last few years and the film does a nice job of balancing this. Steve Jobs has gone from being known as a brilliant visionary of the tech age, to being known as a brilliant, visionary asshole of the tech age. The film firmly falls in the later portrait of Jobs, but it still works as an enjoyable piece of entertainment because you can sympathize with the guy thanks to Sorkin’s script and Fassbender’s performance. The asshole bits are often funny, but you also can understand the where Jobs is coming from more often than not. Yes, abandoning fatherhood of your daughter is deplorable, but in just a couple of brief moments when we first get to see the two interact we feel for Jobs and his conflicted feelings.
Sorkin hinges the emotional arc of the film on Jobs and his daughter, Lisa, and for the most part it works. What doesn’t work is the attempt at a happy ending in the film’s final moment, sort of betraying the delicate tonal tightrope Sorkin was expertly walking every minute before the film’s final one. Lisa is the door to Jobs’ human side, everyone else he interacts with can be interchangeable with what they are digging into depending on the scene. The conversations with Steve Wozniak dig into Jobs’ drive to keep moving forward as well as his work history. Andy Hertzfeld is always picking at Jobs’ insecurities and provides a punching bag to show off some of Jobs’ cruelest behavior. Apple CEO John Sculley serves as a window into Jobs’ past and the corporate side of Jobs’ life. Finally, Joanna Hoffman is constantly going back and forth trying wrangle all of these elements about Jobs into something manageable to the world around him.
The cast filling all of those shoes of Jobs’ opponents are excellent from top to bottom, but Fassbender himself deserves a little more praise. The guy is one of the best actors of his generation, and he continues to be incredible here. There is so much nuance and range in his performance and Fassbender is able to give you such a scope of different emotions over the course of a single scene. Fassbender also has the swagger needed for Jobs. The FU, I’m better than you, mentality Jobs rolled with most of his life.
The next best thing in the film might be Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. Rogen captures the awe shucks teddy bear side of Woz, but he is also able to sell Woz’s ability to go toe to toe intellectually with Jobs; something no one else can do. The Jobs and Woz scenes are the best in the film, and Rogen goes toe to toe with Fassbender the way Woz can with Jobs. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Hertzfeld, and while he gets the least screen time of Jobs’ counterparts over the years he is just as memorable. Stuhlbarg brings his weirder side to Hertzfeld and the battles he has with Fassbender produce much of the film’s humor. The sequence where Jobs is evoking Russian roulette with Hertzfeld’s inabilities to get the Macintosh to say “Hello” is one of the best scenes of the year. Kate Winslet plays against type as Hoffman and is as great as we come to expect from the actress. She carries herself with a sense of pride, even as she is almost always being attempted to get walked on by Jobs, even though she might be the person in his life he respects the most. Winslet is supposed to be Jobs’ brutal conscious as Hoffman and she nails the part through and through. The other big role is Jeff Daniels as Sculley and the conversations between him and Jobs vary the greatest. Sweet one moment and a bulldog doing everything to survive the next, Daniels is able to handle the range of the role. He and Fassbender also sell the father/son dynamic between the two of the them, which really helps their last conversation work as well as it does.
Boyle deserves mention as well, as he reigns in the stylistic flourishes that got him where he is and instead just gives the film a sense of visual style to the storytelling. What I mean to say is, the film doesn’t have a stylistic gimmick like most of his films do, but the film still feels very slick and stylish. Never slowing down and edited wonderfully, especially the flashback moments, the film will fly by in theater. The way those flashback scenes intercut over the present day conversations also work seamlessly and are some of the film’s finest moments.
Steve Jobs is one of the better films of the year and features some of the year’s best performances. Danny Boyle guides Sorkin’s script wonderfully and the entire cast is able to bring the film to life with the energy and snap we expect at this point from the writer. Whether you care about Jobs or not, the film is an entertaining piece of filmmaking that will wrap you up over the course of its runtime.