Film Reviews

‘Steve Jobs’: Fassbender’s Hat Trick

An entertaining play-like film elevated by Michael Fassbender's mesmerizing lead performance

It’d be hard to imagine the past three decades of modern civilization without Steve Jobs. The co-founder of computing giant Apple, he was but one of the many smart, charismatic players who changed the world in the late 20th Century and early New Millennium through technology. Yet for some reason both he and his contemporary/nemesis Bill Gates have always stood out above most of their other, arguably more qualified contributors. In any case, the press and eventually history chose them as the generals in the “arms race” that advanced mankind into the Information Age. Behind the myth of the orphaned Jobs there was a man, they say. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin decide to explore what made that man a modern myth in their film Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs
Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) argue about a computer’s manners in Steve Jobs. (SOURCE: Universal Pictures.)

Steve Jobs in a Nutshell

The movie, adapted by Sorkin from a biography by Walter Isaacson, applies a One Day-type approach by visiting Jobs (Michael Fassbender) during three pivotal moments in his life, with flashback detours to a couple more for context. These moments coincide with the product launches for specific computers he spearheaded: the original Macintosh, the NeXT Computer (nicknamed the Black Cube) and the first iMac.

During the background prep for these events, Jobs interacts with some of the qualified contributors in his life: Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his marketing exec in paper but personal assistant in reality; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his buddy and Apple co-founder; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), former Pepsi and Apple CEO filling in as his father figure; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), an old-time acquaintance and a programmer for the original Mac; Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), Jobs’ former girlfriend; and Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine), his biological daughter with Chrisann.

Jobs by Sheer Will

The highlight of the Steve Jobs film is, without a doubt, Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs. There’s no attempt, except maybe in the iMac segment, to make him look as Jobs. I couldn’t remember if his voice sounded like Jobs while watching. All I can assure you is that, the moment he speaks, Fassbender isn’t Fassbender anymore, he’s Steve Jobs.

It’s an impressive trick. It’s not like Chevy Chase doing Jimmy Carter in Saturday Night Live, where you pretty much knew he wasn’t the former U.S. President yet you went along with it because of Chase’s confidence. No, Fassbender embodies the man and his essence like a full-fledged human being, even if that being isn’t really Jobs. He’s a proven thespian and a risk-taker (Shame; Frank; The Counselor, 12 Years a Slave), but you’d never peg him for a chameleon. Here he transforms and you go along with it, mesmerized by the illusion along with the hypnotic wordplay that is Sorkin’s screenplay.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) consoles his whiz and BFF Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) in Steve Jobs. (SOURCE: Universal Pictures.)

The Sorkin Effect

And Sorkin’s style is both the virtue and the flaw of the film. Just like you can almost always identify when a movie is written by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), Diablo Cody (Young Adult) or Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation), Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue is evident in everything he does for film (Malice) or television (The West Wing; The Newsroom).

The thing is, his voice seemingly mutes that of helmer Danny Boyle, a talented, bombastic filmmaker with a clear style all his own regardless of the genre to which he applies it. It’s strange and slightly disappointing considering others have tackled Sorkin’s scripts before and managed to find a balance between his voice and theirs. Directors like Bennett Miller (Moneyball), Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson’s War), Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men; The American President) and David Fincher (The Social Network) come to mind: all remarkable, most lacking a voice as distinctive as Boyle’s.

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) see eye-to-eye, for now, in Steve Jobs. (SOURCE: Universal Pictures.)

Good as Biopics Go

Compared to his previous body of work (Trainspotting; 127 Hours; Slumdog Millionaire; The Beach; 28 Days Later; Trance; Sunshine; etc.), Steve Jobs seems less like a Danny Boyle film and more like a three-act Sorkin play intertwined by Boyle’s hyper-kinetic multimedia presentations summing up the history between product launches. (And yes, I am aware of both Boyle’s and Sorkin’s theater background!) It’s an observation more than a complaint. I’ve enjoyed plenty of play-like movies before (Doubt; Carnage). Still, partly because of this, Steve Jobs probably won’t set the world on fire in its theatrical run, but it’s destined to be a mainstay on cable and digital streaming for years to come.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve read complaints that Steve Jobs is not faithful to real life events, but has any biopic ever actually been? Artistic license aside, I doubt it was ever Boyle or Sorkin’s intent to make a straightforward depiction of Jobs’ life. Their goal, which I believe they achieved, was to breakdown the Jobs persona, both public and private.

Their Steve Jobs isn’t the perfect demigod of the modern age. He’s a ringleader. A charismatic but flawed human being, he saw the potential of technology. He then got the people who could make it happen to do it by sheer bullheadedness. All the while, he slowly realizes that this shiny new legacy he envisioned would never complete him. Not unless he accepted the missing piece he always had close in his life but never truly acknowledged. What it is might be obvious or surprising, but either way you won’t regret the experience. Hint: The piece to acknowledge isn’t the Apple II team.

Now showing only in theaters.


Movie title: Steve Jobs

Movie description: An entertaining play-like film elevated by Michael Fassbender's mesmerizing lead performance.

Date published: 2016-01-02

Director(s): Danny Boyle

Actor(s): Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

Genre: Drama


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