Biopics are a tricky bitch. If you’re too matter-of-fact, the resulting film is boring, and if you take too many liberties with the truth, you get a giant soap opera. One of the aspects I really admire about Steve Jobs, is that it abandons the traditional biopic structure and instead chooses to only focus on three major events in the life of Apple messiah Steve Jobs. We meet Jobs in 1984 at the launch of Macintosh’s first personal computer, then again in 1988 where Jobs, exiled from the company, launches a giant piece of shit called NeXT and finally we end up in 1998, where Jobs is about to launch the iMac.
This is a really interesting and effective way to tell the story of Steve Jobs, but the film suffers from Aaron Sorkin’s ham-fisted and overly-dramatic dialogue. Characters speak like they are in a Shakespearean tragedy, adding philosophical weight to everything they say. In once scene, Steve Wozniak (a not good Seth Rogen) tells Jobs, “Life is not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” In another scene, Jobs is being confronted by his teenage daughter about being an absentee father. Jobs counters with, “I’m just poorly made.”
Perhaps the biggest eye-rolling moment comes after Jobs is told off by Wozniak right before an important launch. Jobs takes a deep breath, realizing he’s wrong. As soon as he does this, the presentation screen above him flashes, “Think Different.” This is Apple’s tagline and coincidentally what Jobs is doing at that exact moment. There’s also this ongoing occurrence where John Scully (a fantastic Jeff Daniels), the former CEO of Apple, keeps asking Jobs why he feels rejected instead of chosen for being adopted as a child. This allows Jobs to talk in detail about how he feels about such a life-defining event, but it seems odd to me that his boss would keep inquiring about this. It seems like it’s just a sloppy and uncreative way to get Jobs to monologue about abandonment issues.
Problems with the writing aside, there is one major saving grace of Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender. He sheds all of his regular mannerisms to completely transform into Jobs. It’s a compelling and incredibly empathetic performance that completely transcends cheesy dialogue. The actor is a very large and imposing force, but miraculously succeeds in presenting himself as physically unthreatening. While Seth Rogen is basically playing Seth Rogen in a wig, the rest of the cast shine.
Kate Winslet is great as Job’s longtime assistant Joanna Hoffman and it’s amazing to see Michael Stuhlbarg go from playing the cunning and nasty crime boss Arnold Rothstein on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire to playing the nervous, bumbling tech nerd, Andy Herzfeld. Jeff Daniels is worthy of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work here. The film’s best scene brilliantly edits three or four arguments between him and Jobs into this compelling montage that deftly covers half an hour worth of plot in five minutes.
Danny Boyle’s direction is top-notch as are the film’s editing and cinematography. The first two-thirds of the film, set in the 1980s, really look like they were filmed in the 1980s. Boyle and crew perfectly capture the bright but muted colors. Steve Jobs is a good movie if not just for the mind-blowing work of Michael Fassbender and the rest of the cast not consisting of Seth Rogen. The dialogue is most likely an anything but honest portrayal of how events actually happened, but it’s impossible to deny that the film isn’t entertaining and compelling from beginning to end. Grade: B