Steve Jobs (2015): A Review

When painting a portrait, the artist is giving the eventual viewer an impression of its subject within a moment of time. We do not see all of their heights, nor all of their lows. We do not see all of their sadness, nor all of their triumphs. It’s not their best days, it’s not their worst. It is a moment preserved.

Based (loosely) on Walter Issacson’s book of the same name – Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) is not a bio-pic proper. It is a portrait – and as a viewer, it’s a heck of a one to take in.

Steve Jobs is a divisive character in history. Many laud him as a genius, but just as many call him a prick. But it’s difficult to deny his place in history. This review was started on an iPhone, finished on a MacBook. And I’m sure countless other articles about Jobs and this film will have Apple products used in them somewhere. His driven vision has defined the current age of computing – and appropriately, Sorkin and Doyle have decided to give us a version of the man that may not be accurate to history, but instead is accurate to his legend.

It’s not far fetched to say that this movie has as much truth in it as Sorkin’s The Social Network did to the realities of the creation of Facebook. But it uses the real life story to build a portrait of a difficult man trying to create an uncompromised vision, no matter how many compromises they make along the way. The three act structure is used to show Jobs at three key moments of his life – the unveiling of the Macintosh in 1984, the reveal of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the ascendance of Apple in 1998 with the reveal of the iMac.

Almost like a technology based version of A Christmas Story, in each era, Jobs is met with the ghosts of his past. His loyal partner, Woz. His tormented programmer, Andy Hertzfled. His father figure, Apple CEO John Sculley. His estranged ex-girlfriend, Chrisann, and the girl that may be his daughter, Lisa.

These are the prisms that we view Jobs through. With the always quotable, always moving Aaron Sorkin dialogue, we see relationships change and florish. Moments go from tense to sad. Sad to hopeful. Anger to genius. And every moment is captivating.

It’s odd to speak of the “plot” of the film, as ostensibly, there isn’t one. These are scenes from a man’s life, and while interstitial montages help explain the passage of time (of note, seeing the classic Simpsons “Eat Up Martha” scene on the big screen was surreal), we just get to live in these moments.

Steve Jobs delivers its cast an absolute feast of acting. Seth Rogen is wonderful and heartbreaking as the teddy bear-esq co-founder of Apple. Jeff Daniels brings his The Newsroom gravitas to John Sculley. And Kate Winslet gives a fantastic performance as Jobs’ “work wife”, Joanna Hoffman. But none of it would work without the amazing connective tissue of Michael Fassbender’s performance as Steve Jobs. He is an unbearable prick, an amazing genius, and incredibly captivating every minute he’s on screen. You will rarely love and hate a performance as strongly as this one. It’s incredible work from an incredibly underrated actor.

Special kudos must go to the intelligent production process of the film – to give the movie’s eras each a unique feel, each segment was shot on different film stocks. 1984 in 16mm, 1988 in 35mm, 1998 in digital. Its an inspired move that pays off wonderfully – a phrase that can describe many elements of this unique bio-pic.

While Steve Jobs is just a collection of moments, its an enthralling one. Electric performances and elegant direction combining into an engaging film. You can quibble on the history, but the legend of Jobs – as presented here – is one that will live on, in a movie you won’t soon forget.

Steve Jobs is in theaters now.