Steve Jobs is framed with an inventive idea to have the film only focus on three specific events in Steve Jobs and Apple’s life, the launches of the original Macintosh, NeXT and the iMac jumping from 1984 to 1988 to 1998. Each year and event contains Jobs behind-the-scenes dealing with the final hours and minutes before each launch, featuring conversations with the same cast of characters of Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, marketing manager, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Apple co-founder, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), CEO of Apple/Jobs father figure/confidant, and Jobs’ daughter played by a variety of actress throughout the year. Each year Jobs gets in a variation of the same argument/conversation with each person, with shading filled in between as to what has changed throughout the years we haven’t seen, but Jobs being the standoffish guy he always is, it’s always the same thing.
Normally, I’m all for bucking the classic bio-pic trend of literally following the person from their childhood, to their big break and then eventual downfall and then eventual rise again and blah, blah, blah, it’s a tired story and one that would probably be even more repetitive with Jobs if we followed everything and just went from new invention to new invention to new invention. Sure, this is basically that, but it’s really only that, simplifying the action to one place in a set of surroundings for 40 minutes or so. It works in and of itself, but in doing so, skipping large amounts of time, it glosses over much of what makes the rise and fall of Jobs interesting. We see him ousted from the company in 1988 trying to get NeXT off the ground, and then the transition a decade into the future is a one-minute montage that is basically “oh, yeah, Jobs got back with Apple and is now on top of the computer industry,” yet minutes ago he was toiling on the edge of relevancy and couldn’t launch a successful project to save his life. Because we don’t see any of this, and it’s only mentioned in passing, it’s hard to fully comprehend and really feel for any of Jobs failing and subsequent rise to the top, it’s all just skipped over in montage form, which unsurprisingly Danny Boyle loves to do. I realize Sorkin wanted to make everything minimalist and targeted, but in doing so lost a lot of what made Jobs’ story interesting and what made his ride in the industry so tumultuous. Instead, we get a couple interesting pieces of the puzzle, that work as a character piece in a vacuum, but leave a lot up to the audience to fill in the blanks on the rest.
Having the read the book the film was loosely based on I was able to fill in the blanks on characters and knew what happened in between the time periods. But, I’d imagine it would be harder for an outsider unfamiliar with the particulars of Steve Jobs’ life to fully follow why so-and-so was happening and how he magically goes from A-to-B, and in an especially weird moment where he describes finding out who his biological father is and how he’s actually randomly bumped into him many times in life, plays as a random aside that doesn’t make much context within the film itself, yet was a pretty integral part of driving who he was as a person in real life, it’s like they just plugged a random scene in or much was cut from a storyline about it.
Another part that rarely ever works is these people in Jobs’ life who rail on Jobs and are supposed to be this foil to him being a major asshole, trying to cut Jobs down a peg where people like Wozniak and Jobs’ daughter Lisa would outline how all Jobs’ computers up to that point were a failure and how others would tell truthly how Jobs was never really a designer or engineer, but took parts from others and took credit for it all, but it never amounted for such. These people in theory are supposed to be putting Jobs in check by saying “why are you such an asshole and why do you act this way when your computers have and never will be as great as you think they are, and you’re not this mythical computer god who knows all.” Except that we’re viewing this film from 2015, or later, and we know full well that after 1998 Jobs’ stock and presence around the world as a computer god and legend of innovation only grows larger and more defined. Jobs gets the last laugh, and not that he’s wholly some evil and diabolical person, but we’re lead to be on the side of these people who are trying to keep Jobs honest, and temper his asshole side, but in the end he wins out in his normal way and still treats these people the same way. Sure, that was Jobs, an asshole who often treated those around him and employees like garbage, but also got incredible work and design out of them to create these revolutionary projects. It’s the most interesting things about Jobs, but because of how the film is laid out, and these relationships are only seen in three finite times, we only see this one side where Jobs is always right and always winning no matter what, when in actuality that wasn’t always the case.
It’s clear within literally the first five minutes of the movie, that there’s no one else who could’ve played this role like Michale Fassbender does. He completely embodies Jobs’ look and nails the smugness perfectly, if not always looking as geeky as Jobs did, where Fassbender still can’t not look like an attractive movie star, most notably in the 1984 and 1988 scenes. It’s very much Fassbender’s film, and I really don’t recall a scene without him, he’s obviously the driving force and makes everything work, even when Sorkin’s script gets too overly dramatic, which unfortunately happens to comical effect. I was looking forward to seeing how Seth Rogen would handle playing Steve Wozniak, as of course Rogen isn’t known for his dramatic roles, even though the sweet and goofy Wozniak isn’t any stone-cold dramatist by any means, but unfortunately there’s not much there. Seth Rogen just literally plays Seth Rogen like you’ve seen him many times before. Not once do you think you’re watching Steve Wozniak, but rather Seth Rogen saying lines supposed to be from Steve Wozniak.
In the end, a lot of the film is good in and of itself, the script, Boyle’s directing (even if he wouldn’t of been my first choice), much of the acting is well done and the pacing moves at a nice clip (the film never feels like its dragging), but it doesn’t really mesh together. Sorkin’s walk-and-talk script that seems to function as a play doesn’t really play with Boyle’s style of directing who likes to illuminate flashy editing and play with montage and super-impositions that take what Sorkin intends to ground and create something that seems at odds with the script, and Boyle can never seem to hold it down. As many have noted, one can’t help but wonder what the original David Fincher version would have looked like, and I’m sat here wondering the same thing.