Laurene Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, does not want you to see Steve Jobs. At one point it seemed no one wanted you to see it. Laurene, allegedly, called actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale, both rumoured to be playing her late husband at one point in the film’s history to beg them not to take the part. Original director David Fincher eventually pulled out of making the film but, like all good Hollywood stories, and indeed the man himself, they found a way. Ironically, watching the end result, you suspect that Steve Jobs will want you to see Steve Jobs. Not because he necessarily comes across as perfect but because he comes across as more than just the face of a brand many people knew him as.
The film is meticulously theatrical in its execution. So much so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see it adapted for the stage and succeeding. Broken into three acts we follow Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in the build up to three key product launches in his career. The first, in 1984 is the launch of the Macintosh computer, the second, after his unceremonious departure from Apple to launch his solo venture the NEXT computer and the final, upon his strategic return to Apple to launch the now iconic iMac. Amid preparing for his moment in the spotlight he must appease his long suffering right-hand-woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), struggle with his affections for the girl he at first denied was his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and both battle and lament with colleagues Steve Woziak (Seth Rogen), John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg).
As you would expect from an Aaron Sorkin scripted film about an iconic tech genius – yes this is the same Aaron Sorkin who brought Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook story to blistering life with The Social Network – there is a lot of walking and talking around auditoriums. But, as with most Sorkin scripted ventures, it’s a riveting, character rich drama that is both ruthless and surprisingly heartfelt in dealing with its subject matter.
What director Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin have created is a dissection of a man, often an ego, to such an extent as you feel as if you know him completely. Some will argue that this is not an accurate portrayal of the man, the myth, the legend of Steve Jobs; that just because you put an actor on a stage, and have him alienate people while wearing a turtleneck does not mean you are telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But, to borrow from another Sorkin script; maybe we can’t handle the truth. Because the truth is muddy, it’s ‘he said, she said’. Fiction allows us to witness a journey, to see Steve Jobs, fictional or otherwise, not as just a man of determination and vision but indeed a man of emotion. Perhaps too much emotion, perhaps emotion that drives him to do things that other people wouldn’t.
And therein lies the brilliance of Steve Jobs; it is a film that takes you to the core of what made this man tick. His need to control, his refusal to compromise and, as his co-creator of Apple points out, like his products, his inability to be compatible with anything else on the planet. Beneath all the bravado, beneath the arrogance, just as with Mark Zuckerberg, there is a humanity, a desperate need to stamp his authority and creativity on the world and woe betide anyone who dares get in his way. But, and it is here that the film resonates the most, the moments of dealing with his daughter Lisa are the instances that allow us to witness the man behind the turtleneck. The film is told chronologically but such is its ripple like whirlpool of narrative structure that you could re-edit it to run backwards or in any order you want and still be sucker-punched by the brutal fact that Jobs was a man who struggled with his own identity and as such to fully understand how to be a father.
There is a Faustian, often Shakespearian quality to the film. Boyle’s direction is intimate, his camera often lingering on Fassbender while others emote off screen. On the outside Jobs is calm but you know inside he’s a man in turmoil. It is telling that so recently we saw Fassbender as Macbeth, a man seemingly selling his soul for ambition, the parallels are uncanny and endless, here Fassbender is both captivating and hypnotic. One minute he’s arrogant, belligerent and impossible, the next he’s achingly masking his insecurities or desperately trying to understand why no one else grasps what he is trying to do. Opposite him Winslet, despite at times struggling with a Polish accent, is wonderfully harangued and fraught as Jobs’ marketing executive while Rogen is typically cuddly as Wozniak, his humble ways the polar opposite to Fassbender’s stomping ego. All three should be considered come award season.
A film of emotional power and narrative excellence; Steve Jobs takes a visionary and brings him to visual, vibrant and detailed life. This is one Apple you’re going to want to take a big bite out of.