“Steve Jobs” is a phenomenal biopic that combines many talented artists and uses them to great effect as they tell the story of one of the most mercurial businessmen this world has ever seen. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin never try to sweeten up Jobs who proved to be a difficult person to get along with to say the least, but they keep digging away at the layers of his personality to get at what drives his antisocial behavior and his quest for greatness.
The movie is divided into three sections, each involving the lead up to product launches hosted by Jobs. We see him at different points in his life over 16 years, each of which has him being pursued by those closest to him or who have since become alienated from him due to his abrasive personality. There’s Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) who cofounded Apple along with Jobs, Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) who gets at what really drives Jobs in his life, Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) who was a member of the original team that put together the Macintosh computer, GQ journalist Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz) who is always hoping for an exclusive from Jobs, marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) who is the closest thing Jobs has to a best friend, and ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) who is mother to a daughter that she says is his, but he doesn’t believe it.
What’s especially brilliant about Boyle’s direction is how he uses different film types to document the evolution of technology. Whether he’s using 16mm, 35mm or digital film to show how the technology Jobs was promoting had advanced, Boyle succeeds in taking us back to a time where we remember when computers were too large to carry around with you and not everything seemed so crystal clear. He also succeeds in electrifying scenes driven by dialogue to where they have a potent energy which puts many action movies released in 2015 to shame.
When it comes to dialogue, Sorkin is hard to beat. It makes sense that he was brought on to write the script for “Steve Jobs” as he previously won an Oscar for trying to unravel the maddening genius of Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network.” Both movies deal with individuals who succeeded in changing the way we look at technology and its possibilities and of how their personalities made them hard to love. To be an actor uttering words he wrote must be a dream come true because it brings out the best in them all whether it’s a movie or a TV show.
The role of Steve Jobs was offered to many A-list actors like Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper, but it ended up going to Michael Fassbender who proves to be a perfect fit. It’s a fearless performance as he is unafraid to make Jobs look like the prick many described him as being. But he also keeps us hooked throughout as he lets us see what fuels his highly eccentric behavior to where we can’t leave his side for one second.
Matching Fassbender scene for scene is Kate Winslet who portrays Jobs’ long suffering confidant Joanna Hoffman. While many have given up spending time with Jobs or trying to get through to him, Hoffman remains by his side constantly trying to point him in the right direction and make him see what is most important in his life (hint: it’s not computers). Winslet is a fireball as she stands up for her boss and herself as even she has a breaking point that will be reached, and she makes you feel her character’s exasperation completely in a way few other actors can.
Stuhlbarg has had quite the year playing real-life characters in “Pawn Sacrifice” and “Trumbo,” and his latest is Andy Hertzfeld. We watch as Hertzfeld gets threatened with public embarrassment by Jobs if he can’t make a certain computer say hello, and Stuhlbarg gives the character a quiet dignity that stays strong even while he is being constantly berated. It should be no secret by now that Stuhlbarg is one of the best character actors working in movies today, and that has been the case since his work in “Men in Black 3.”
Credit also needs to go to Seth Rogen who plays Steve Wozniak, the man who helped found Apple alongside Jobs. The two started out as friends, and then they became separated to where a strong and inescapable bitterness threatens to tear them apart for good. Wozniak begs Jobs to give credit to the Apple II team as everything they worked on started from it, but Jobs dismisses it as old technology that has long since been rendered obsolete. Rogen is a better actor than many give him credit for (check out “Observe and Report” if you don’t believe it), and he makes Wozniak’s exasperation for respect all the more palpable. Wozniak wants to tear himself away from Jobs and all he stands for, but Rogen makes you see why that is not an easy task.
There’s also a terrific performance from Jeff Daniels who can play just about any role that is given to him. His performance as Sculley is wonderful as he constantly tries to reason with Jobs and reign in his personality when it becomes too much for others to deal with. Daniels has previously worked with Sorkin on the HBO series “The Newsroom,” so he knows just how precisely to deliver the invigorating dialogue he comes up with.
In addition you have Katherine Waterston (so good in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”) as Jobs’ beleaguered ex-girlfriend Chrisann, the vastly underrated Sarah Snook who portrays product launch manager Andrea Cunningham, Adam Shapiro as software engineer Avie Tevanian and John Ortiz who plays Joel Pforzheimer, a reporter who somehow manages to get an exclusive interview with Jobs. Every single actor in “Steve Jobs” gives a performance that is among the best in their career, and that makes this movie proof that there are no small roles, only small actors.
When it comes to the end of a year, biopics and movies “based on a true story” are usually a dime a dozen. But “Steve Jobs” is truly a work of art which stands far above the kind we see too often. While many just run through the motions and pay little heed to avoiding all the clichés that typically render them unwatchable, this biopic is electric and crackles with life and spontaneity. It is quite simply one of 2015’s best movies.