Your typical biopic has a lot of familiar guideposts. There’s the rise from obscurity, early success, a fall from grace and then we wrap things up with our older/wiser subject in a “good” place.
“Steve Jobs” chucks most of these conventions aside and delivers a Shakespearean tour de force that is a showcase for a bold director, screenwriter, and cast.
The first thing that sets this movie apart is Steve Jobs himself. He was a titan of industry and one of the most influential people of the past century, but he was also a world-class jerk whose ego and ambition trampled those who were closest to him.
The central question of the movie then becomes: was Steve Jobs’ success achieved because of his caustic personality or in spite of it? The answer is inconclusive, which is kind of what makes this movie great.
Aside from Jobs, the other dominant personality that colors this film is that of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose dialogue-heavy style is so distinctive his name has become an adjective.
The biggest knock on Sorkin is he’s overly preachy and human beings don’t actually converse in such an exhaustive, witty, rapid-fire way he writes. These are legitimate beefs.
But Sorkin has a few things going for him, the first of which is if any person ever talked like Sorkin writes, it was probably Steve Jobs.
Sorkin also cleverly sets the action backstage at three major product launches in Jobs’ career, the Macintosh, Next (his strategic failure while on exile from Apple) and the iMac. This puts the movie right in Sorkin’s wheelhouse where all of the characters are edgy and kinetic.
The other thing helping Sorkin here, as it did in “The Social Network,” is he is working with a strong director who doesn’t let the script overpower the film. Danny Boyle, director of “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” keeps the pacing tight and finds enough interesting flourishes and angles in every corner of the three auditoriums to make the settings feel much more open and robust than they actually are.
Rounding out “Steve Jobs” is the tremendous cast, led by Michael Fassbender who vaults to the front of the pack in the Best Actor Oscar race. Most portrayals of famous people rely on impersonation, but Fassbender isn’t interested in the “historical” Steve Jobs as much as he is in trying to figure out what makes a man — who is simultaneously charming, deplorable, inspirational, and self-centered — tick. It is a great performance.
It is easy to see how the rest of the cast could slot right into the Best Supporting categories as characters orbiting Jobs waiting to be wronged by him in some way, shape, or form. Kate Winslet is predictably great as Jobs’ longtime associate and marketing rep Joanna Hoffman, as is Jeff Daniels as former Apple CEO John Sculley.
Character actor Michael Stuhlbarg is solid as a rock as a programmer and perpetual whipping boy Andy Hertzfeld and Katherine Waterson does some decent work as Chirsann Brennan, the mother of Jobs’ daughter, Lisa (played at age 5 by Makenzie Moss, age 9 by Ripley Sobo and age 19 by Perla Haney-Jardine), who serves as the emotional fulcrum of the movie.
Turning in the best performance of his career is Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak, the nebbish co-creator of Apple and the closest thing Jobs has to a friend. Their back-and-forths are some of the most devastating in the film.
With so much fantastic work at play, “Steve Jobs” is just one of those movies that is a joy to watch and is worthy of the tragic, conflicted world-changer who shares its name.
“Steve Jobs” is rated R for language.