Steve Jobs (2015)

Can a great man be a good man?

Over three periods of time — 1984, 1988 and 1998 — famous Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) will rise and fall both in his career and personal life. Before taking to the stage at three different product launches, Jobs will repeatedly lock horns with the people closest to him, those who alternatively admire and revile him.

Amongst these people are long-suffering Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), humble, hard-working Apple co-founder and longtime friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple’s chief executive officer John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and her daughter with Jobs, Lisa (played by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine over the three intervals of time).

Apple Eyes
Apple Eyes

If you’ve ever seriously looked into any biography on Steve Jobs, you’ll come to see a complicated man. As someone who’s been endlessly fascinated in researching this modern icon across books, audiobooks, documentaries and yes, Jobs (2013) — the ‘other Steve Jobs film’ — I wondered, what could be new in this collaboration between writer Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network (2010), and director Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (2008)?

Well, the first thing to note is that this picture is a fictionalized sequence of conversations, largely inspired by a Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and the experiences of people’s encounters with the multifaceted personality, rather than being purely based upon factual events.

In this intensive character study, Sorkin and Boyle are clearly more interested in their own interpretation of these individuals, rather than being completely tethered to the reality of what they did, when and with whom. As such, this has allowed a freedom to realize a narrative that works within the contained backstage environment, opposed to a structure that sweeps over a typical biographical style through birth, development, peak, fall and death, though these elements are still present if one views Jobs’ selfish ego as the main protagonist. It’s otherwise a bold and original choice that works remarkably well.

‘I envision this in WIDESCREEN.’
‘I envision this in WIDESCREEN.’

This approach has also allowed freedoms elsewhere, namely in the realization of key players. If you’re looking for a movie doppelganger for Steve Jobs, then you can’t go past the highly underrated expose by Ashton Kutcher in the 2013 film, with Kutcher managing to look, walk and talk in an eerily similar manner to his subject.

Here, Michael Fassbender, Macbeth (2015), isn’t terribly concerned about impersonating the Apple co-founder to an obsessive state, occasionally imbuing the personality with a similar wry panache as Christian Bale’s determined yuppie Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000). Accompanied by an excellent supporting cast, of which, Kate Winslet, The Dressmaker (2015), is the highlight, Fassbender interprets Steve Jobs as an egomaniac who wouldn’t be too out of place on Wall Street — an arena where such ruthless self-determination would be celebrated. For this kind of take, it works, even if it feels a little excessive in its cynicism. (Real former colleagues of Jobs such as Wozniak, Sculley, current Apple CEO Tim Cook and chief designer Jonathan Ive have all criticized the picture for its rather negative portrayal).

The star of the show though is Sorkin’s biting script. When a new character enters the scene, you know it’s only a matter of sentences before you’re knee-deep in a cluster-bomb of intensive conflicts. This creates a tension from scene to scene, masterfully handled by Boyle, who skilfully breaks sequences up with well-considered blocking and momentary silences — particularly the last argument between Jobs and Wozniak, in which the stern former remains firmly on the stage and the humble latter leaves from the general seating area. Subtle, but effective subtext.

‘Yes, I’m Seth Rogen. Please take me seriously.’
‘Yes, I’m Seth Rogen. Please take me seriously.’

Also of note is the cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler, Hanna (2011), who differentiates the three time periods with 16mm film, 35mm film and digital — going from soft and grainy to sharp and clean. Not only does it create a feeling of authenticity for the different eras, but it also illuminates the arc of the Jobs character in his attempt to simultaneously narrow his technological focus and become warmer in his personal life. Again, subtle, but effective subtext.

As an original addition to the plethora of material on Steve Jobs, this film successfully manages to be an intriguing dramatization of a multilayered personality and the people who struggled to understand him.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Steve Jobs is released through Universal Pictures Australia