Steve Jobs, from writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle, is a busy three act drama that packs in a fair amount of entertainment value while trying in vain to disguise the fact that far from being innovative and profound, this film is really at heart, a conventional family drama and a tribute of sorts to all that is Steve Jobs.
The film begins in 1984 as Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is just about to introduce the Macintosh, which he hopes will be an immediate success with the computing public; never mind that the cost and limitations of the new product might hamper its expected success (those of you have followed Jobs or advances in the tech arena may know how this eventually plays out).
This pivotal moment for Steve Jobs (and America, for that matter), is exactly the time when he is beset by several individuals needing his immediate attention: loyal employee Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), who can’t get the computer to say “hello”: Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), who wants to share a celebratory bottle of wine; friend and Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who just wants to see the old team get credit; former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), who comes bearing resentment toward Jobs for financially neglecting her and their court-recognized daughter Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine in 1984); and finally Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), his right-hand woman and confidant—who wants Jobs to stop sweating the small stuff (“hello” for example) and smooth over relations with his ex and their daughter—a difficult problem since Jobs doesn’t believe he is the father. The encounters are nicely paced, brimming with Sorkin’s ear for theatrical (if not entirely realistic) dialogue, and Fassbender neatly captures Jobs’ intensity, exuberance, callous indifference, especially in his exchanges with Rogen and Stuhlbarg. Some of Fassbender’s memorable moments however, are the subdued ones, as in his reaction to daughter Lisa’s art on the Macintosh, or his realization later on that he has been mistaken, as to the timing and intent of a certain Time magazine cover.
The flaw in the film is that, once you get into the NeXT section (as in Jobs’ introduction of that ill-fated device), and the final one launching the iMac, one might develop a feeling of deja-vu. The same characters populate each section, many with the same concerns (Wozniak wants credit for the team, Chrisann wants support, Lisa wants love, Andy wants respect), but the most interesting segments concentrate on the complex relationships between Jobs and Sculley (an excellent Jeff Daniels, as well as Jobs and Joanna Hoffman. The scenes where Sculley and Jobs are rehashing what each believes to be the truth about Jobs’ ouster, intercut with flashbacks to the (very dark) board room where destinies are determined, are riveting (even given the excessively theatrical darkened room setting). As for Kate Winslet’s Joanna, she displays assertiveness, compassion, and makes it understandable why people could remain loyal to Jobs, for all his presumed flaws and disregard for others’ feelings. Fassbender’s Jobs might be magnetic but it’s Winslet’s Hoffman that radiates intelligence and warmth that sustains the film through its rough, repetitive patches.