The main complaint many have with the new ‘Steve Jobs’ film is that Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) looks nothing like the Apple CEO. Granted, it is a valid point if this were a conventional biopic but director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) are reaching for a more ambitious and impressionistic vision of the iconic genius. Sorkin masterfully crafts the drama into three major product launches backstage. The first covers the Macintosh in 1984, NeXt in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. It plays out more like a Shakespearian tragedy as time is of the essence for teams of engineers to frantically work behind-the-scenes fixing glitches before each product launch. For cinephiles that enjoy quality acting, this film is loaded with memorable performances and a suspenseful kinetic rhythm thanks to Danny Boyle’s bold pacing and direction.
It’s a miracle this film was ever made. Jobs’ wife of 20 years, Laurene Powell (with a net worth of $19.5 billion) was so against the production that it is strongly rumored that she called Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale urging them not to take on the lead role. The main reason behind her distaste for it is that it paints a picture of Jobs as a jerk to not only his colleagues but also to his estranged daughter Lisa (played by three actresses) and her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston). It’s hard to believe that she had to beg Jobs to increase the monthly child support payments of $385 per month even though he had a net worth of $441 million in the 80s. Reality is stranger than fiction as you consider the source material for Sorkin’s screenplay. It’s based on the authorized Walter Isaacson biography that was written at the request of Jobs himself.
With that said, the cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler (Divergent) is magnificently shot first in grainy 16mm, then in 35mm and finally in high definition digital which visually captures the evolution of Apple. The scenes are mostly filmed backstage which gives it a claustrophobic and suspenseful feel before Jobs embarks on each critical product launch. Throughout these stages are an array of recurring characters including stellar performances from Jobs’ right-hand woman/marketing director Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg) and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). It’s all of these terrific actors that make ‘Steve Jobs’ worth the price of admission. As Wozniak asks Jobs, “Who are you and what do you do?” we get a glimpse into his ego and obsession of always being in control. Jobs fires back, “I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician.”
Winslet’s character dons geeky glasses and articulates her words precisely as she tries to be a voice of reason for Jobs’ emotional outbursts. She is more like a work-wife that helps Jobs realize his parental responsibilities to Lisa. The initial scenes are tough to watch as Jobs denies that Lisa is his daughter and that the personal computer with the same name was christened after her. Hoffman is one of the few in Jobs’ inner circle that can be brutally honest without the risk of being fired. It’s a compelling performance from Winslet without being smug. Rogen as Wozniak is equally good as he argues with Jobs to recognize the team that built the Mac’s predecessor and at the time only profitable computer, the Apple II. There is a terrific flashback of Jobs and Wozniak in that infamous garage where it all started quarrelling about the computer being a closed system. It adds irony and humor to the opening scene where Jobs wants the Mac to say hello to the audience while the reality is that Apple computers were a very unfriendly and hands-off system not compatible with any other software on the market.
Fassbender is amazing in the lead role. He channels the essence of Jobs that goes beyond a mere impersonation like Ashton Kutcher attempted in another biopic. Sorkin’s brilliant rat-tat-tat dialogue lets Fassbender dramatically capture the self-absorbed and stubborn aspects of Jobs’ megalomania. Any actor can capture a character’s mannerisms and appearance through make-up but Fassbender’s Oscar-worthy performance transcends those boundaries. By the third act, the transformation is complete during the iMac product launch. Fassbender dons the signature black turtleneck, Levi’s 501 jeans and John Lennon glasses. There is no doubt that he is a shoo-in for the Best Actor Oscar nod while Sorkin is a lock for the Best Adapted Screenplay accolade.
If you’re looking for a straightforward examination of Steve Jobs, then by all means check out the recent documentary ‘Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine’ by Alex Gibney. For those discriminating moviegoers who want to see an impressionistic inner portrait of a complicated genius, Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’ is the ticket. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/aEr6K1bwIVs.