Michael Fassbender may be the busiest man making movies. The guy is always working. To give you an idea, he appeared in three movies last year and has a whopping five movies slated for a 2016 release. But here’s the great thing – whether he is starring in a huge superhero franchise or smaller independent cinema, Fassbender always delivers rock solid performances. “Steve Jobs” adds to that reputation.
This is the second Steve Jobs biopic within a three year span and the upgrades we get in this film are significant. Fassbender takes the lead role. Danny Boyle directs. Word wizard Aaron Sorkin writes the screenplay. The story is adapted from Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography and mixes in information gathered from Sorkin’s numerous interviews with Jobs’ associates.
The film wisely steers clear of being an exhaustive biopic. Instead it functions in a three chapter structure, each coinciding with a new product launch from the Apple co-founder. First is the Macintosh launch of 1984. Second is his NeXt computer of 1988. The last chapter jumps to 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac. Between these three pivotal moments in his life, Steve Jobs is faced with a number of professional and personal hurdles. Boyle and Sorkin manage to weave together so many narrative threads most of which rely on relationships that grow (or in many cases fester) as the film moves forward.
Much like with “The Social Network”, Sorkin doesn’t coddle his subject. He paints Jobs as the creative visionary he was, but our backstage access also shows an insufferable, insecure bully obsessed with total control. He constantly badgers his underlings and can’t bring himself to give anyone else the slightest bit of credit or consideration. The person who has an inside communication line with him is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive who is the only person besides himself he seems to depend on. It is a key relationship with Fassbender and Winslet each bringing needed levels of intensity.
Other relationships suffer at the hands of Jobs’ ego. Seth Rogen, an actor whose performances I generally find repellent, steps out of his norm and is great playing Steve Wozniak, Jobs’ old friend and Apple co-founder. I also enjoyed every scene featuring the naturally subdued Michael Stuhlbarg. He plays Andy Hertzfeld, an original Mac team member and “family friend” of Jobs. Jeff Daniels is really good as John Sculley, the CEO of Apple. All three chapters show each of these relationships in various stages of disrepair.
Perhaps the most damning scenes feature Jobs with his daughter Lisa. We first meet her at five years-old and she serves as a small window into Jobs’ private life. Jobs shamelessly denies he is her father and, despite his net worth, leaves her and her mother (Katherine Waterston) living on welfare. While Lisa showcases the more despicable side of Jobs, she also offers the one thin chance at redemption.
Boyle’s high-energy direction is a nice compliment to Sorkin’s dialogue. Boyle is known for pulling all sorts of visual tricks out of his hat. Here he shoots the 1984 segment in grainy 16mm, 1988 in 35mm, and 1998 in full digital. It’s such a cool way of distinguishing the time periods aside from the standard new haircuts and age-worn faces. Other than that Boyle doesn’t go overboard. We still get a few of those signature showy strokes, but otherwise he keeps everything nicely situated within the script’s theatrical boundaries.
And then we come back to Fassbender, critically praised and with an Oscar nomination to match. He handles Sorkin’s thick, tricky dialogue with profound surety. It’s a commanding performance that manages to make you admire him in one scene and detest him in the next. And aside from his great delivery, Fassbender channels his character’s complexities through every insecure smirk, every cut of the eyes, and every defiant stare.
There are a few things that left me curious. As with “The Social Network” Sorkin takes some enormous liberties depicting Steve Jobs all for the sake of drama. While Sorkin is never one to shy away from that fact, its understandable how some might take issue. And is it that common for everyone to have their meltdowns and emotional face-offs 30 minutes prior to every major technology presentation? That is certainly the case in all three chapters of “Steve Jobs”.
Aside from that “Steve Jobs” got its hooks in me right off the bat and kept me captivated for the duration. Despite the questions I had, it is so satisfying to watch good actors work with a whip-smart script and under very assured direction. All of these pieces do their parts in making “Steve Jobs” an usual but thoroughly entertaining biopic.