Since his passing, there have been three attempts to capture the epic and complicated life of Steve Jobs in a movie. The first two efforts weren’t exactly our favorites: Jobs, featuring Ashton Kutcher, was “insanely boring,” while Alex Gibney’s more recent Man in the Machine was one of the “worst documentaries ever” according to one of our colleagues.
We had a chance on Monday to check out an early screening in Seattle of Steve Jobs, the latest attempt to capture the Apple co-founder on film from The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle. We came away quite impressed.
The film is not an attempt to document the entire life of Steve Jobs; rather, it focuses on the relationships between Jobs and his daughter Lisa, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Apple CEO John Sculley and Mac team members Joanna Hoffman and Andy Hertzfeld. It tells the story of these relationships with an unusual structure, only showing what happened in the hours leading up to three separate product launches: The original Macintosh, the NeXT, and the iMac.
The product launch structure works well for Sorkin’s fast-paced, dialogue-heavy script, even if much of it is exaggeration or fabrication of what actually happened in these moments. Steve Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender, who is excellent at portraying a maniacal Jobs that engages in intense discussion with the other characters as he prepares to go on stage.
Unlike Walter Isaacson’s book, which inspired the movie, Steve Jobs takes creative liberty with the events and dialogue surrounding these product launches. It’s hard to imagine these complex, interpersonal conversations happening in rapid succession backstage, just before Jobs went on stage at these events. In fact, Sorkin joked about the improbability of Jobs’ most significant life events happening backstage at product launches.
Despite this, we appreciated how Sorkin and Boyle found a way to tell a unique story about Jobs that brought together both his personal and work life at the same time.
Fassbender as Jobs is mesmerizing, even if he bears little visual or audible resemblance to the real Jobs. His supporting cast is also strong, particularly Kate Winslet, who plays Jobs’ confidant Joanna Hoffman. We enjoyed Jeff Daniels’ performance as former Apple CEO John Sculley, though the relationship portrayed between the two executives after Sculley fired Jobs in 1985 did seem implausibly intimate and friendly.
Steve Jobs is a movie designed to entertain, rather than a historical account of Jobs’ life and career that you might find on the History Channel. While it succeeds as entertainment, it does stretch or even invent real-life events in an attempt to depict his most personal issues. His real-life relationship with his daughter Lisa, for example, was never cleanly resolved like it appears to happen in the movie.
In addition, while Fassbender did capture how Jobs’ mind moved at a million miles an hour, he still seemed too kind in the movie. Jobs could be a complicated mix of vindictive, petty, emotional, kind, manipulative and endearing. Fassbender’s Jobs seems pretty emotionless and less complicated than the real man.
There are also still major parts of the story that are missing in the film. This is a man obsessed with technology, who shunned modern medicine that likely would have saved his life. That seems a story worth telling. The rivalry with Microsoft and Bill Gates is largely absent from the movie as well, even though it played a significant role in the rise, fall and rebirth of Apple.
In the end, though, Steve Jobs is in a different league when stacked up against the previous two attempts that try to tell the story of the tech visionary. Fassbender delivers an Oscar-like performance and Sorkin’s writing is fantastic. Those that are familiar with Jobs’ life will appreciate how the film is put together, and even non-techies will enjoy this movie.