Final Rating: 9.2/10
This is not a biopic. If you’re expecting the life story of Steve Jobs with great detail and depth, you won’t find it here. Instead, go into this film with an open mind. Steve Jobs was a questionable coworker and a frightening boss, but he was one hell of a salesman. He knew how to package anything and make it purchasable. That’s this movie. It is a carefully caked-together visual play that only focuses on the moments right before big Jobs presentations. We remember the speeches Jobs pulled off, and while the film may not be fully factual, we can get some sort of idea of what did happen before his biggest moments. Jobs was a man who could pull anything off. Even when he failed, he did so without being forgotten or cast aside. The entire film is a cluster of messes, anxieties and demons that still somehow ends up being sleek and remarkable. This isn’t the life story of Steve Jobs nor does it factually represent him perfectly, but the essence of the film is everything Steve Jobs was: Intimidating yet gifted.
The combination of Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin is a dream come true. Boyle loves to get unhinged with how emotionally driven he can make his films. Sorkin loves to place you in tiny rooms to feel the anguish within a heated meeting. With the two together, you get a nice balance. You get a Boyle film that plays with the brain more than the heart like he usually toys with, and you get a Sorkin story turned into a visual panic attack. The combination is a cooking pot on the brink of overflowing. There are moments where Sorkin’s diving into complex descriptions gets accompanied by Boyle’s love for representations. When you hear about space shuttles, and you see a rocket behind Steve Jobs magically appear on the wall behind him for no rhyme or reason, it oddly works because of how expansive his imagination and creativity was. Apply this to many angles, shots and compositions that show both growth and contrivance and you can see why this duo is wonderful.
On the topic of pairings, you may not find a better duo this year than Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet as Jobs and his right hand lady Joanna Hoffman. Aside from the mother and son bonding in Room, I can’t think of a better chemistry between two people in a film in 2015. Fassbender’s Jobs portrayal is similar to Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln work. His voice is mostly soft, but you still get hit with every punch. Unlike Lincoln, Jobs wasn’t a nice man in many cases, and while Fassbender does show this, he also makes his rendition of Jobs still somehow likeable. Maybe it’s because we see a bit of a naivety here. We feel as though this depiction of Jobs doesn’t fully understand how people work but simply what they’re passionate about instead. He says he wasn’t built properly, and we believe it. We don’t feel that his small apologies cannot fix his mistakes. Well, they can’t, but we still somehow emphasize with this Jobs.
We have his louder companion (Hoffman) played by Winslet who never over steps her comfort levels. She has a fixation on making everything run smoothly. She talks to everyone waiting to rip Jobs’s head off with a smile and a darting eye making sure Jobs is nearby and protected. She never feels useless, either. She may carry a clipboard around, but she carries what she needs to say with visceral power. The few moments where Hoffman needs to talk Jobs down, and she does so, being the only person who truly gets how Jobs operates.
Give Fassbender and Winslet the Academy Awards now. Their portrayals are borderline pitch perfect, while they both focus on delivering worthy cinematic performances and not just realism. They only yell when it is necessary, and they drill punches by directing their emphases rather than simply projecting it. With a full cast of huge talents (Seth Rogan at his best, Michael Stuhlbarg’s awkwardness used efficiently, Catherine Waterston delivering a stellar train wreck of a performance, and yet another golden job by Jeff Daniels), we have debating and arguing as theatrical as that of Network. The negotiations are thrilling. The tensions are high. It is Fassbender’s domination and Winslet’s stern sympathy that boost Steve Jobs into other dimensions both as a person above his peers and as a film, and their performances have slain 2015.
Alas, there are still huge strains within the film since it is composed of nothing but strategic combating. We have Steven Wozniak (Rogen) as the nice guy pushed outside of his limits, and we have him as a reminder that Jobs was a man willing to leave others behind. We have John Sculley (Daniels) bringing his own powers from over at Pepsi to Apple as a reference to how Jobs could never stand to feel inferior. We have Chrisanne (Waterston) hounding on Jobs’ negligence and lack of care for her or her daughter (of whom is most likely his). We have so many components that make Jobs look like the devil himself before he even replies with sarcastic, degrading comments.
This isn’t a movie that will try to clear Jobs’ name. It simply places you in the moments before his big speeches as you withness the pressure cooker steam. What it will do, though, is reveal his dream within an embodiment of himself. He wished to give evil machines a heart and so he made friendly Apple computers sell that way. Steve Jobs as a movie works the same way. We get the mechanics through Sorkin’s sharp script and the cracks of soul with Boyle’s directing. We get both with the acting from everyone on board. We may not get every answer or every plot point resolved, but it’s only a film of snippets. There’s a symbolic story here and not simply a narrative. Thay won’t be up everyone’s alley, but it was certainly up mine. Understand Steve Jobs as a cinematic representation of human emotion, the struggle for compassion in a technological age and innovation representing art and you’ll be better off.
The moments before his presentations are in real time, so the moments where he teeters on the edge of how he is managing his time, especially as a punctual efficionado, make the thrills even greater. Still, he does whatever he can to push. He pushes ground but he also pushes the buttons of others. He seeks for humanity through his computers but not through his loved ones. He is looking too far into the future. When Wozniak tells Jobs that he doesn’t have to be binary, we get it. There is always a 1 with Jobs but never a 0.
Steve Jobs is the movie that gives a bit of soul to a man in his most soulless moments. We don’t have to forgive him or punish him. We can simply just marvel. The movie itself is a spectacle, and you can see Jobs as a conflicted genius or a gifted monster. You won’t be wrong either way, and that’s what Jobs would have wanted. This movie is barely about Jobs’ life, but it may not get any more personal than this. Jobs wanted to give us all technology and to give technology a bit of us all. This film does that, even if it will leave narrative and biopic purists in the dust alone.