Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) releases the Macintosh personal computer in 1984. But after lower-than-expected sales and quarrels with CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Jobs is fired and smeared in the press by his good friend and Apple co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Seth Rogen). Jobs starts a new company, NeXT Inc., and releases another personal computer in 1988 with the help of marketing executive and personal advisor Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). After selling NeXT to Apple and returning to the company as CEO during the company’s financial nosedive, Jobs picks up where he left off with his innovative personal computing ideas.
Steve Jobs isn’t some fluffy biopic about how Apple’s founder and CEO was a magical unicorn who changed the world with computers. It’s all about Jobs’ most difficult decade, a time in which he revealed his true colors through his career failures and by refusing to accept his daughter Lisa (whom he constantly tried to write off as someone else’s daughter before he finally recognized her as his). Despite how Apple (and Jobs himself) marketed the persona that was Steve Jobs, he was not the technological coming of Jesus. Nor was he a designer, developer, or engineer. An innovative thinker and marketer, yes. But above all, he was an asshole. A brilliant and successful asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. And that’s why this film is so compelling.
This film doesn’t glorify or iconicize Jobs, the way all of the magazine covers did when he died in 2011. Rather, it lets us peek behind the Steve Jobs sold to us in order to see the man who freaked out about his 1984 TIME cover not representing the Macintosh to his liking. Or the man who threatened to slander one of his coworkers on stage at an Apple presentation if the computer demo didn’t say “Hello.” This movie is all about showing us the side of Jobs we never knew, the same way The Social Network (also penned by writer Aaron Sorkin) showed us how much of a dick Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was/is.
It’s such an awards-bait film. Dramatic biopics usually are. But it’s got director Danny Boyle (who won Best Director and Best Picture for Slumdog Millionaire). Also, there’s Aaron Sorkin behind the script (which I’ll discuss more in a moment). But it’s the powerhouse cast behind this film that makes Steve Jobs exceptionally “baity.” Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen are wonderful in their roles. In fact, both might make the supporting actor/actress consideration lists. And we can’t forget Jeff Daniels, who I’ve decided to call “Sorkin’s personal muse” because, seriously, it’s like he poofs to wherever Sorkin is.
But, of course, Michael Fassbender portraying Steve Jobs is the reason to see this movie. He’ll definitely make the Best Actor list this year (though I doubt he’ll campaign because he’s been pretty vocal about his hatred of awards). He effortlessly captures the zeal for innovation and two-steps-ahead thought process Jobs was known for, but he also plays up the aforementioned assholery in moments of indifference and disdain for the people around him, which adds complexity to Jobs as an onscreen character. Also remember that Fassbender is German-Irish, which means he had to perfect an American accent AND learn how to talk and sound like Steve Jobs. Which, by the way, the voice was dead on to the point of creepy.
Where I’m not digging this film, though, is Sorkin’s screenplay. While I did like The Social Network (more so because of David Fincher), I’m not a Sorkin fan. And I know there are people who absolutely love anything he writes. I understand that. His quick-witted dialogue is some of the best in the screenwriting field. However, I didn’t enjoy Steve Jobs’ script. And I don’t think it deserves the praise it’s getting.
The idea to divide Jobs’ story into the three major presentations of his career and focus the plot and setting around that was creative, and I commend Sorkin for that. But the rest of the script? Boring. At times, overwhelming with information that either didn’t matter for plot/character development or did matter but zipped by too quickly. And then there was the typical Sorkin bickering. The dialogue in this movie is nonstop bickering. And then it’s arguing. And then it turns to yelling. It’s messy and disengaging. I get that that’s Sorkin’s style. But it often veered right past the point of drama into melodrama.
So while I enjoyed the movie’s structure for its story, the actors’ performances, and even the way Jobs is presented, I can’t get past the screenwriting. I know critics are eating this shit up, but I wish they’d all take a step back and think about something—is it really Sorkin’s writing that’s doing the movie’s heavy lifting, or is it Jobs’ already interesting life that’s making the script seem good? Hell, even I’d argue that half of the reason why Michael Fassbender’s performance was good was because of Steve Jobs, not Aaron Sorkin.
Overall, Steve Jobs is a good film because it has interesting source material and an actor who disappears perfectly into the onscreen version of Apple’s former CEO. That said, it’s not the “masterpiece” the critics say it is. Is it better than 2013’s Jobs with Ashton Kutcher? Um, duh. But Aaron Sorkin’s script weighs this movie down A LOT. The dialogue in particular is just melodramatic yelling meant to convince the audience that there’s conflict worth paying attention to. I’m curious what this movie would’ve been like in the hands of a more capable artist. Because it needed some nuance.
Steve Jobs: B-
For my radio review of Steve Jobs on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 22:30 mark)