Steve Jobs has three sections, each of which takes place behind the scenes of a different product launch—the first is for Apple’s Macintosh in 1984, the second is for the NeXT computer in 1988, and third is for the iMac in 1998. At each of these launches, Jobs (Fassbender) is accompanied by his assistant and head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Winslet). He also has a number of run-ins with his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann (Waterson) as well as several encounters with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Rogen), with one-time Apple CEO John Sculley (Daniels), and with computer scientist Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg).
Steve Jobs is a tightly wound biopic that isn’t weighed down by any compulsion to present a full and complete picture of its subject’s life and legacy. Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and written by Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network), the film features a number of strong performances and is overflowing with energy. Though it’s not particularly revelatory, Steve Jobs is well-paced and thoroughly entertaining, and it’s about as good as an October wide release gets.
With the exception of a few judiciously placed flashbacks, Steve Jobs sticks to a rather limited time frame; in sense, Sorkin’s screenplay applies something like the same end-to-end control that Jobs wanted for Apple’s devices to its depiction of the man’s life. Cradle-to-grave biopics rarely (if ever) make for good cinema and are often fraught with pacing issues. Steve Jobs on the other hand, never feels rushed and isn’t a moment too long. It doesn’t really contain any lulls either. And as Sorkin and Boyle demonstrate, you don’t need to look at man’s entire life to get a sense of who he is and of how he may have affected those around him.
Similarly, the film’s relatively short list of characters also helps to keep things focused. Instead of introducing a new figure in Jobs’s life with each product launch, Boyle repeatedly presents viewers with a slightly altered version of someone they’ve already met. By focusing on Jobs and his interactions with just a handful of other people, Steve Jobs makes it easier for viewers to track the development of each of its characters. Instead of diluting its impact by featuring more characters or my spending too much time on Jobs’s life outside of the product launches, Steve Jobs remains concentrated throughout.
In short, Steve Jobs engages in some remarkably efficient storytelling. For all of its energy and even with its near-constant motion and dialogue, Boyle’s latest is actually a good deal trimmer than it might have been. Viewers don’t need to know anything about Jobs to enjoy or make sense of the film, and Boyle and Sorkin don’t waste time with superfluous details either. The film’s three-act format also helps to keep the whole thing under control and provides a certain degree of structure to the chaos.
The three-act structure also adds an element of repetition to the film. Though each of the film’s three sections is distinct, and though each of them advance the narrative in their own way, they still have enough in common for viewers to perceive the film as somewhat cyclical. In addition to occurring before a product launch of some kind, each of Steve Jobs’s acts also features similar encounters and presents Jobs with similar problems. Such repetition doesn’t make the film less interesting; in fact, by asking viewers to constantly think back to and to make comparisons with those scenes they’ve already seen, it actually increases their level of engagement. As with life, there is a certain element of predictability to the day-to-day happenings in Steve Jobs, but development and disorder are never too far away.
Even with its easily distinguishable three-part narrative, there is still something a little haphazard at the heart of Steve Jobs. As much as Jobs would like to keep things under control, they always seem to get out of hand; similarly, even a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end don’t prevent Steve Jobs from being a little messy. This messiness stems as much from Boyle’s kinetic direction as from Sorkin’s sharp and quickly delivered dialogue; it’s also a large part of what makes the film as exhilarating and as entertaining as it is. Even at its most frenzied, Steve Jobs never quite goes off the rails, and the sense of breathlessness that it may inspire only emphasizes the ways in which it reflects the man at its center.
Much of Steve Jobs’s strength lies in its performances. Sorkin’s script is solid on it’s own, but Fassbender and Winslet (and to a lesser degree, Rogen and Daniels) bring it to life. Not everyone can deliver Sorkin-style dialogue effectively, but everyone in Steve Jobs does. Fassbender and Winslet also work extremely well together, and the energy between them is crucial to the film’s success. As Jobs, Fassbender is nothing if not formidable, and Winslet consistently rises to meet him.
For what it’s worth, Fassbender is also perfectly suited to play the demanding and controlling Jobs. Fassbender has never shied away from complicated roles or from playing men who are hard (if not impossible) to like, and in Steve Jobs, his performance shines brightly through the flurry of activity and motion around him.
For all of its merits, there are a few things in Steve Jobs that don’t work as well as they could have. The most important of these is the film’s ending, which comes across as too saccharine and out of place. Much of the film that focuses on Jobs’s relationship with this daughter Lisa doesn’t feel as inspired or as slick as the rest of it either. In fact, whenever Steve Jobs feels compelled to redeem Jobs from his less likable ways, it becomes too conventional and starts to feel forced.
Furthermore, while the film’s script is one of its primary strengths, it is also the source of some hiccups. A few lines in the film (like the iPod prediction) are a too obvious, and some of the repeated gimmicks (like the “which Andy?” questions) fall flat.
There are flashes of genuine creative inspiration all throughout the Steve Jobs, but there are some real missteps as well. Those missteps aren’t enough to ruin the film, but they do prevent it from reaching the realms of greatness. Steve Jobs is a little bit The Social Network and contains a dash Citizen Kane, but it doesn’t manage to live up to either of those films. Even though this character-driven biodrama isn’t as groundbreaking as some of the technology that it features, it’s solid and worth seeing all the same.
Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading! The local theater isn’t playing much that interests me at the moment, so I’m not sure what I’ll be watching next, but I’ll be sure to mention it here eventually :).