The third film to take on the challenge of bringing Steve Jobs’s life to the big screen, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is easily the best yet. However, like the Apple founder himself, it’s not always easy to like.
Sidestepping the cradle-to-grave biopic approach that Ashton Kutcher’s flawed Jobs followed, Steve Jobs instead focusses on three critical events in the Apple co-founder's life. Tellingly, they’re all product launches – 1984’s Macintosh debut, 1988’s NeXT computer unveiling following Jobs’s split from Apple, and his triumphant 1998 return to the company with the reveal of the iMac. Interwoven between these are short flashbacks to other key scenes, such as the mythical garage in which Apple was formed along with Steve Wozniak, here played with convincing – if unfairly bumbling – warmth by Seth Rogen. The emotional core of the film is then carried by Jobs’s struggle to form a meaningful relationship with his daughter Lisa.
Steve Jobs feels much more like an Aaron Sorkin project than it does a Danny Boyle one. Sorkin’s “walk-and-talk” technique from The West Wing is used throughout – for a film set almost entirely in the confines of three backstage areas at presentation auditoriums, the leads seem to have trekked a breathlessly-chatty marathon length by the end of it all.
The dialogue pings from character to character at a pace (keep an ear out for Jobs’s smart line about God and trees, which will have you in stitches), but feels heavy handed at times, laden with punchlines to make sure you really know what it all means. Haven’t figured out that Jobs is a tyrannical control freak? Have him compare himself to Julius Caesar. Haven’t noticed that Jobs puts too much of himself into Apple rather than his estranged family? Have Wozniak say that computers shouldn’t be built with flaws, let alone actively putting Jobs’s own ones in on purpose. Like Apple’s own products, the film holds your hand a little too much, pushing you unsubtly towards its intended opinion of Jobs, rather than letting you form your own.
With the film having jumped from studio to studio and director to director before hitting the screen, eventual director Danny Boyle is uncharacteristically restrained throughout. Which is a shame – a scene where Jobs talks to marketing maestro Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet, doing a patchy American-Polish accent), comparing his risk taking to that of NASA with the Skylab missions, sees footage of the space launch appear on a wall behind Jobs, as the two continue to chat on oblivious. It’s a wonderful way for Boyle to illustrate Jobs’s grand thought processes, and it would have been nice to have seen more like it throughout.
It’s Michael Fassbender though as Steve Jobs who inevitably steals the show. He looks nothing like Jobs (and it’s awkwardly jarring when the film dials back the years to show middle-aged Fassbender in Jobs’s younger hippy days), but his presence is captivating, just like the late Apple CEO himself. At times gentle and inspirational and at others ferocious and delusional, Fassbender nails the self-aggrandising, personally-conflicted duality of the man.
His scenes with Jeff Daniels are the film’s highpoint – Daniels refreshingly plays against the culturally accepted narrative to portray ex-Apple CEO John Sculley in a sympathetic light, the executive who will go down in history as “the man who fired Steve Jobs”. The breakdown of their friendship plays out far more convincingly than the resolution Jobs will eventually find with Lisa. There’s the feeling that for Jobs, the real battle is not in finding familial bliss, but in kicking out for universal creative accolades in what became a stifling blue collar culture.
Though it lapses into iFanboy hero worship by the end (Jobs’s careless fathering absolved because of…er… isn’t the iMac gorgeous?), Steve Jobs mostly succeeds in its warts-and-all portrayal of the Apple visionary. Much like the man behind the machines, it has its flaws, but it just works. Just.
Steve Jobs hits UK cinemas nationwide on November 13th.