Review: Steve Jobs Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen


Beloved. Reviled. Monster. Visionary. Steve Jobs was all of these things. The man was also a walking contradiction in matters of the heart and the mind. Steve Jobs, the new movie from Danny Boyle, is the third production in as many years about the Apple co-founder, a man whose drive and passion made him a high-valued risk for the company he helped create. But this docudrama isn’t about a computer wunderkind defeating Goliath IBM or about a fallen from grace idealist reborn anew. It’s about Steve Jobs. Rather, it is about Jobs in the approaching minutes of three important moments in his life.

It’s never easy playing a person of note, be it a historical figure or somebody famous. Michael Fassbender had the unenviable task of playing Jobs and while he does not have a physical resemblance to the late entrepreneur, who passed in 2011, his performance as a controlling perfectionist comes across as being effortless. Apparently, the way the production schedule worked, the actors would spend two weeks rehearsing each act, and this was then followed with two weeks of shooting. By the time it came to shoot the last act, Fassbender was so proficient that he had memorized the screenplay and didn’t even it bring it to set.

Aaron Sorkin once again shows his strengths as a wordsmith by taking Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography, with its nearly 700 words worth of personal anecdotes and reflections from Jobs, his family, friends, adversaries, colleagues and competitors, and strips it down to the basics: Jobs and a small circle of people around him. Sorkin approaches the subject of this biopic much different than the norm. It’s neither all-encompassing of his life nor is it is contemplative of the man. Placing the focus on three periods (1984, 1988, and 1998), each of which corresponds to the launch of one of his products (the Macintosh; the NeXT Black Box; and the iMac), we enter Jobs’ story not as the budding microcomputer entrepreneur working in a Los Altos garage with Steve Wozniak, but instead with the impending launch of the Macintosh at a trade show in Cupertino, California, on January 24, 1984. Two days after the famous Apple “1984” ad aired during Super Bowl XVIII.

During each product launch the prevailing constant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who is more or less the work wife of Steve Jobs, by his side and the one to help navigate him through a procession of old acquaintances looking for a minute of his time. These few minutes include some Sorkin staples, like the walk and talk, a storytelling-technique that he popularized on shows such as Sports Night and The West Wing. We also have characters talking over each other trying to get a word in edgewise. And of course people speaking Sorkinese, a select brand of observations and witticisms that only seems to occur from Aaron Sorkin’s argot wellspring.

The decision to apply a three-act structure to three pivotal days in the life of Steve Jobs allows Michael Fassbender to lose himself in Steve Jobs the man, not the black turtleneck and blue jeans-wearing character that the public would later identify. Fassbender has always been a solid actor. His work with Steve McQueen in films like Hunger and Shame have shown brilliance, and as much as I discourage the idea of playing famous persons for a path to Oscar gold, Fassbender reaches another high point and any accolades that come his way will be well deserved.

If the film has a central theme it is the relationship Jobs has with his illegitimate (or so he claims) daughter Lisa and his listlessness when it comes to parent responsibility. These moments are short but decisive in helping to understand Jobs, at least to a degree. Within moments of her introduction, toted along with her biological mother Chrisann Brennan (as played by Katherine Waterston), it’s obvious that she is his daughter. Seeing her again at ages nine and 19 only reinforces said fact, with asking the same questions more than once and idiosyncrasies that are comparable to the megalomaniac with bad fatherly constitutions.

The entire cast makes Sorkin’s script sing, including a surprising Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. The Judd Apatow prodigy from comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up has, just like his friend Jonah Hill in Moneyball, been Sorkinized as Jobs’ former colleague who always seems to be there for every product launch waiting to cause a dustup, just so he and others can be lauded by Jobs in a public venue. The bone of contention leads to a spectacular verbal spar between to two Steves.

The film is full of mini-arcs for the major characters introduced throughout, but the strongest bond exists between Michael Fassbender’s and Kate Winslet’s characters. Hoffman is one of the few people that isn’t timid to Jobs’ tyrannical ways. It must be her background in anthropology and her aptitude in handling Jobs better than most.

Much like David Mamet supersedes James Foley’s direction in Glengarry Glen Ross, here again is a brilliant writer outdoing a filmmaker. Danny Boyle has shown a visual flair with films like Trainspotting, Sunshine and Slumdog Millionaire. With Steve Jobs, his direction is calculated but not nearly as cold as David Fincher’s The Social Network, also written by Aaron Sorkin and also about a socially introverted wunderkind (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg). Through pages and pages of snappy dialogue we are pulled into the life of Steve Jobs, as if given a backstage pass, and see the measure of this man and the people around him.

Steve Jobs is a magnificent film with strong writing and performances. It’s worth your time to see it in theaters. Just as long as you keep your iPhones off.

Director: Danny Boyle
Writer(s): Aaron Sorkin (Based on Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs”)
Notable Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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