A film review by Craig J. Koban November 2, 2015


RANK: 11


2015, R, 121 mins.


Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs  /  Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman  /  Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak  /  Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan  /  Jeff Daniels as John Sculley  /  Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld  /  Sarah Snook as Andrea Cunningham  /  Adam Shapiro as Avie Tevanian  /  Makenzie Moss as Lisa Jobs (5 Years Old)  /  Ripley Sobo as Lisa Jobs (9 Years Old)  /  Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa Jobs (19 Years Old)  /  John Ortiz as Joel

Directed by Danny Boyle  /  Written by Aaron Sorkin  /  Based on the book by Walter Isaacson

Because this is my 1400th review as a film critic – and because Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was such a maverick rule breaker when it came to technological advancement – I’ve decided to abandon the usual format for a review.  Instead, I’ve opted to review Danny Boyle’s new film in the form of a list. 

Here’s 14 reasons why STEVE JOBS is one the best films of 2015: 

1.  It’s nothing like 2012’s JOBS.

This one sound likes a proverbial no-brainer.  I was not one that critically loathed the Ashton Kutcher starring film from a few years back (the actor did a reasonably solid job of immersing himself as the iconic computer industry nonconformist).  No, my main problem with that film was that it felt more like a haphazardly assembled “greatest-hits” compilation of Jobs’ successes and failures.  It’s hard to fully encapsulate the wide-prevailing influence that Jobs' work has had on contemporary culture, which left me feeling that JOBS could have benefited from being a multi-part documentary more than a single two-hour film.  The makers of STEVE JOBS clearly learned from the mistakes of JOBS, which brings me to point number two…

2. The atypical biopic handling of the material.

STEVE JOBS is not an obligatory biopic.  Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who previously won an Oscar for penning another fact based film on a man that has fundamentally changed the world in THE SOCIAL NETWORK) has made an incalculably shrewd choice of not trying to distil Jobs' entire life in one film.  Instead, and rather compellingly, Sorkin structures STEVE JOBS more like a three act play that focuses on three key turning points in his life, all of which in conjunction covers roughly 14 years of his life between 1984 and 1998.  By not dealing with the sheer enormity of Jobs’ life Sorkin’s script somehow feels more intimate and personalized as a result.  The writer has found inspiration in the 2011 biography of Jobs by Walter Issacson, but this film never focuses on Jobs’ early struggles, the rise of Apple Computers, and so forth.  The three critical moments in Jobs' life shown here (the 1984 launching of the Macintosh computer, the maligned launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the first iMac launch in 1998) also shows him dealing with all sorts of mounting pressures that besieged him respectively during each period.  STEVE JOBS has a very deconstructivist vibe as far as biopics go, which makes it feel all the more fresher and livelier in approach.  In many ways, the film taps into the mythic stature of Jobs while simultaneously demythologizing him. 

3. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue.

A common criticism of Sorkin’s work is that it feels too pretentiously showy for its own good.  That’s simply ludicrous.  His characters speak with a colorful and eclectic usage of language to drive scenes that rarely feel unnecessarily expository.  The exceptional dialogue exchanges that all of the characters engage in have a razor sharp wit and a stinging sense of hateful truth about them.  The overall dramatic energy between all of the performers here is instantly palpable as a result.  The words they speak positively crackle and, yes, perhaps have a flair for the theatrical.  Yet, naysayers of Sorkin miss the point altogether: There’s a boisterous and confident sense of style to his usage of language in the same way that Danny Boyle utilizes an aesthetic directorial style to tell stories.  When Sorkin’s characters speak, we become instantly enthralled…and we listen.  How often can we say that about conventional, cookie cutter movie dialogue that plagues so many conventional films? 

4. Danny Boyle’s uncharacteristically low-key direction. 

I have admired many of Danny Boyle’s films, but have sometimes found his overall editorial choices to be a bit too hyper-caffeinated for their own good.  One of the simple pleasures of watching STEVE JOBS is how he freely abandons his trademark visual flourishes and instead grounds the film with a simplistic and straightforward style, which only helps to compliment Sorkin’s cracker jack dialogue and makes the character dynamics all the more engrossing.  To help differentiate the film’s three different time periods, Boyle uses three different types of stock: 16mm for 1984, 35mm for 1988 and digital film for 1998. The results are very subtle, but very effective at evoking a strong sense of varying time and place.  

5. The overall handling of Jobs. 

Steve Jobs was a genius, but he was no saint.  Sorkin and Boyle’s handling of him captures his innate business savvy, the manner that he truly had his finger on the social media/pop culture pulse of what consumers wanted, and his willingness to flip the bird to the technological status quo by daring to make computers drastically different from the norm…and no matter what the personal or financial cost (he famously favored a beautiful looking computer over one that was ugly, but had stellar performance).  However, Jobs in STEVE JOBS is also shown as a textbook narcissist whose backstage ferocity often alienated him from those even closest to him in his inner circle.  Was Jobs an audacious visionary that wanted to make computers both sexy to the mainstream or was he a billionaire bully that ruled over his tech kingdom through hostile intimidation and fear tactics?  STEVE JOBS wisely and accurately shows its subject in both extremes.  It never asks us to even like Jobs, but it does compel us to respect the headstrong dedication he had to his craft…even if he came off as a hothead megalomaniac in the process. 

6. Michael Fassbender. 

Fassbender is one of our most ferociously empowered actors working today…but he sure as hell looks absolutely nothing like Jobs.  Rather compellingly, no effort is truly made transform the actor into Jobs, seeing as facial appliances and wigs would have proven to be a dreadful distraction.  Instead, Fassbender just emotionally immerses himself in Jobs as fully and completely as he has with any other character he has superlatively conquered before.  His work here is not about physical and vocal mimicry (as Kutcher’s work was in JOBS); instead, Fassbender embodies all of the intriguing contradictions of this man while relaying both his repulsive and commendable traits.  STEVE JOBS, as a result of Fassbender’s tour de force and Oscar worthy performance, becomes all the more enthralling as a stirring character piece: it’s almost an observational film about the best and worst in human behavior.  Fassbender doesn’t look like Jobs, but he simply becomes Jobs. 

7. The remarkably assured supporting cast assembled around Fassbender. 

Flanking Fassbender is a wonderfully assembled group of supporting actors, all of whom bring out the best of each other.  I especially liked Kate Winslet as long-time Jobs assistant Joanna Hoffman, who often serves as an audience surrogate in the film while constantly acting as her employer’s voice of calm reason.  Then there’s the wonderfully off-kiltered casting of Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, arguably the second most important figure in Apple’s inception and a proud, but somewhat beaten down man that’s tired of having his pal constantly dismiss his unfathomable contributions to making PCs accessible to the everyman.  Jeff Daniels (so insanely good on HBO’s THE NEWSROOM, also penned by Sorkin) has a tricky role as Apple’s one-time chairman that always maintained a love/hate relationship with Jobs.  There’s rarely a false note from any of the cast here. 

8. It’s a surprisingly tense movie. 

Considering the relative modesty of overall approach here (STEVE JOBS comes off like a play more than a film), the film becomes remarkably suspenseful at times, mostly out of the sheer panic of Jobs’ employees trying to make his products…work…even just minutes before their unveiling to the world at large.  This is stressed in the film’s first act, during which time Jobs maliciously berates Apple programmer Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg) to make bloody well sure that the Macintosh can…say “Hello” on cue.  Realizing the limitations of what he was then working with, Herzfeld pleads with Jobs that the feat can’t be accomplished in time, which matters very little to the latter.  He doesn’t care how Herzfeld gets the computer to say the word, all that matters is that it does and that people see the new fangled Macintosh as a personalized and inviting machine.  STEVE JOBS, more often than not, becomes almost suffocatingly intense when it portrays Jobs at the zenith of occupational antagonism, threatening his underlings to see his vision through to final fruition…or else. 

9. It’s a surprisingly touching father/daughter story. 

One of the more thorny – but ultimately touching – subplots in STEVE JOBS is his volatile relationship with an ex-lover (Katherine Waterson), who claims that her daughter was father by him, but Jobs stubbornly refuses to admit responsibility…regardless of the positive paternity tests (he’s a 94 per cent match).  A damning indictment of Jobs in the film is that this woman and her child (most likely his) were living on welfare and food stamps while he became incomprehensibly wealthy.  Yet, as the years progressed Jobs found himself warming over to his child, and he begins to form an unlikely father/daughter bond with the girl that evolved over 14 years until it reaches a crescendo in the film’s final act.  In a way, she becomes a calming influence on her father that, in many respects, helps to humanize him when countless other scenes demonize him.  One exchange he has with her is devastatingly truthful, sad, and cuts right to the core of the man with three words: At one point she asks what’s wrong with him.  He pitifully replies, “I’m poorly made.” 

10. It never dwells on the details of his long battle with cancer or his death. 

As mentioned, STEVE JOBS never chonicles his grueling battle with cancer that ultimately cost him his life.  This film is not concerned with his origins and demise.  It’s about placing him in the immediacy of three separate cornerstone moments during his career that would either make or break him.  Besides, we all know how he died, which would have made any dealing with it on Sorkin or Boyle’s part kind of unnecessary and redundant. 

11. It stresses the limitless importance of Jobs’ innovations. 

Like him or hate him, Jobs changed the world in ways almost beyond compression.  The manner with which we all interconnect with each other on the planet was made all the more simple based on Jobs' creations.  The devices we use today, often resting in our pocket when we are not obsessively staring at them in our hand, have had far-reaching ramifications of human society.  They’ve made a big world feel smaller and more interconnected.  His brilliance and significance of his products don’t wholeheartedly redeem Jobs, seeing as he had a toxic personality that was sometimes beyond redemption.  Yet, his aspirations to make computers an everyday reality – and something that anyone regardless of competency could use easily – are something that STEVE JOBS readily underscores throughout its story. 

12. It understands the behind-the-scenes pressures of delivering new consumer goods to the market better than any recent film I’ve seen. 

STEVE JOBS also works resoundingly well as a back stage drama and expose on how difficult it can be for those with creative inspirations to see their unique visions become reality when combating against corporate financial imperatives.  One of the main reasons Jobs was ousted from Apple in the late 80’s was that he simply couldn’t acquiesce to the board of directors’ demands to be more fiscally responsible.  The Macintosh sold poorly, but its inferior Apple II sold well and kept the company afloat.  In a way, the film almost becomes a sly commentary on the nature of the movie industry as a whole, when corporations are looking to make quick and easy money at the expense of pioneering new artistic advancements.  STEVE JOBS develops a whole other layer of interest with the underlining material as a result.

13. It never feels like it panders down to audiences. 

I loathe it when biopics lazily regurgitate tired and overused genre troupes.  STEVE JOBS engages in none of that nonsense.  Its overall structure subverts our very expectations of it.  It never once tries to overly sentimentalize or sensationalize its storyline and subject matter.  Moreover, it never feels like saccharine and warmed over Hollywood-ized nonsense.  STEVE JOBS understands that the man was an inspirational mastermind and a loathsome heel.  Jobs is neither placed on a pedestal of hero worship here, nor is he outright vilified for being a tyrant…and this is what makes the film so intoxicating and exciting.    

14. It just is. 

No doubts about it. 

  H O M E