Let’s not sugarcoat it: Steve Jobs was an awful human being. A great marketer, a technology rock star, a man with a vision, but as a person he is rightly reviled. Danny Boyle’s Aaron Sorkin-scripted character study does not shy away from this, even having the man himself admit he is “poorly made” at one point. STEVE JOBS sees its subject at his ugliest and we witness all the pain and torment he causes others behind the scenes of his glossy tech demonstrations and shiny branding.
1984, 1988, 1998. Three product launches all fronted by, and obsessed over, by Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender). This is the story of the buildup to the main event, to Jobs taking stage and selling to an enraptured audience, upsetting everybody and distancing himself from the rest of humanity all along the way.
Though a good chunk of the film’s appeal hangs on the performances of the cast, of their well-honed skills making Sorkin’s script sing, there is also ample room for Boyle to make things cinematic. Steve Jobs is constructed in such a way that it would work really well on stage and a future adaptation isn’t beyond the realms of possibility as Sorkin has written for broadway before. Fassbender’s Jobs is present in every scene with the rest of the ensemble constantly coming and going exactly as though they’re hanging around just off-stage.
Boyle loves the bend our concept of reality much in the same way Jobs was said to exploit a “reality distortion field”. Just look at how he justifies his actions – personal and professional – highlighting innovations of the past to confidant Joanna (Kate Winslet) as imagery illustrating his points is superimposed vividly on the corridor behind them like one of his Apple presentations to a captivated audience. He never drops his guard and we struggle to see where public Jobs ends and the real Jobs begins (if there even is a real Jobs) – he is always working, always with the next “great” thing for his company in sight and any real human connection at the very back of his mind.
It was pointed out when Michael Fassbender stepped in at a late stage to play the Apple maverick that he looks nothing like Steve Jobs. That’s true, he doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter because you believe Fassbender is Jobs. His performance, comfortably among the strongest in an impressive career, is completely magnetic and he counter-intuitively manages to make the man both a detestable figure and a tragic human being. Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan and Michael Stuhlbarg are all strong as respectively Jobs’ long-suffering marketing guru Joanna Hoffman; Apple co-founder and the real brains behind anything truly technical Steve Wozniak and underappreciated engineer Andy Hertzfeld. Their support sturdy as it is struggles to escape the all-consuming singularity that is the face of their company and the actor playing him. Oddly appropriate isn’t it?
Sorkin’s script is of course like a well-oiled machine for doling out wit – so layered, rhythmic and sharp that you’ll find yourself laughing out loud on reflex even if the joke didn’t quite register. It’s certainly worth multiple watches so you can pick out every gag and appreciate all the nuance.
The film has a lot of fun at Apple’s expense, emphasising that Jobs seemingly committed to a closed system (purpose-designed from the outset and uncompatable with everything without a fruit on it) just to be awkward, to have complete control over his market. Anyone who has ever owned an Apple anything (who hasn’t?) knows how tempting they are to buy and how frustrating they are to run. Jobs was apparently obsessed with the things that don’t matter. He was prepared to humiliate one of the geniuses behind his product just because he couldn’t get a computer to say hello. He wanted one of his products to be a slightly off cube to make it look more cube-like (something to do with a trick of the eye) before all the gubbins inside were finished, plus a transparent housing for the i-Mac so you could see the inner workings but still couldn’t open and repair it even if you knew how.
Steve Jobs is a perceptive and profound look at a divisive figure. Boyle, Sorkin and Fassbender have somehow managed to craft a richer and broader picture, a more human (though no less detail-obsessed) view than the man himself arguably ever had on his own world. SSP