Apple visionary examined in entertaining ‘Steve Jobs’
Leave it to scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin to come up with a punchy, comprehensible way to distill the complex story of the visionary who invented Apple computers into a feature film. Sorkin’s sharp, literate script is the hardware that supports director Danny Boyle’s hugely entertaining biographical drama, Steve Jobs. It’s been open season on Jobs and his legacy in the four years since his death, with this film following the fictional drama Jobs, and the doc The Man in the Machine.
But Steve Jobs is extra impressive in the way Sorkin assembles the raw material of Jobs’ life, and the propulsive energy with which Boyle tells the tale. Sorkin (The Social Network; Moneyball; creator and head scribe on The West Wing) chooses to focus on three crucial moments when Jobs’ career, celebrity and personal life intersect, literally, on the public stage: at the press launch for the Macintosh in 1984, the press launch of the ill-fated NeXT Cube in 1988, and the press launch for the first iMac in 1998—which was destined to revolutionize home computing forever.
Boyle’s savvy filmmaking keeps Jobs in the crosshairs, as one calamity after another befalls him and his team backstage at each of these events; this amps up suspense and tension in the moment, while providing a sturdy platform for a few brief, illuminating glimpses into the past. Factor in three Oscar-bait performances—Michael Fassbender, mercurial, infuriating and fascinating in the title role (onscreen every nanosecond in a variety of period haircuts), Kate Winslet, as Jobs’ no-nonsense gal Friday, Joanna Hoffman, and Seth Rogen as stoically truth-telling Steve Wozniak—and the result is just about irresistible.
In 1984, the now-classic Orwellian ad for the first Apple Macintosh has just debuted on the Super Bowl. Backstage at the product launch (filmed on location at the Flint Center in Cupertino), Apple guru Steve (Fassbender) is fretting over a malfunction in his prototype, bullying his staff and engineers to fix it before showtime. (“If we blow this thing, IBM will swoop down on us like a Batman villain.”)
Marketing diva and voice of reason Joanna (Winslet) sticks by his side, attempting to resolve the crisis while buffering the team from Steve’s abrasive demands. Wozniak (Rogen), the tech-meister who co-founded Apple with Steve in his garage, tries to get Steve to give a shout-out to the team that created the Apple II, the company’s early model. And Steve’s onetime girlfriend, Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), begs for support for the 5-year-old daughter, Lisa, that Steve hotly denies is his.
Four years later, he’s been ousted from Apple, apparently in an attempted shakeup he forced on CEO John Sculley (the excellent Jeff Daniels), another old friend and colleague. Head of his own company, Steve is about to debut something called the NeXT Cube, a package with no internal OS; he’s waiting to see what the latest Macintosh hopes to achieve so he can have his new team develop the software and sell it—and himself—back to Apple. (Joanna calls it “The Steve Jobs Revenge Machine.”) Sure enough, back at Apple in 1998, Steve confronts all the messy threads of his life as he’s about to launch the iMac.
Steve doesn’t evolve much, as the film reiterates its main themes—Steve’s ruthless perfectionism, his drive to forget the past in order to embrace (or invent) the future, and his relationship with Lisa (well-played by three young actresses at different ages). But his mission to get technology into the hands of the people informs everything, and the quick-witted script is constantly engaging. Joanna calls Steve on his “reality distortion field.” When Woz (who’s “tired of being Ringo when I know I was John”) asks non-engineer Steve what he actually does, Steve replies, “I play the orchestra.”
I don’t know enough about the facts of Jobs’ life to know how much of this material is ripped from transcripts or eyewitness accounts of these events, and how much is pure speculation. But in this media age—largely created by Jobs and Wozniak—people who have had any kind of impact on the culture pass quickly into mythology. And that’s what this movie is all about: popular culture caught in the act of mythologizing itself.
With Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Danny Boyle. A Universal release. Rated R. 122 minutes.
APPLE OF HIS EYE Michael Fassbender takes the lead in Danny Boyle’s biographical drama ‘Steve Jobs,’ which features an irresistible cast and quick-witted script.