There may be nothing new to say about Apple’s Steve Jobs — this is the third bio film in as many years — but director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have collaborated to tell us in a new fashion. Steve Jobs unfolds in three parts, where each segment plays out in more or less real time before the launch of a significant product: the 1984 Macintosh, the NeXT debut (1988) and, in 1999, the iMac. Boyle shoots each in an appropriate fashion: grainy 16 mm for the now old-school Macintosh, 35 mm for the sleeker NeXT and digital for the iMac of our iFuture.
- Eye to i: Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender)
It is a backstage drama, with the action confined to dressing rooms and off-stage hallways, in which Jobs (Michael Fassbender) interacts (almost always contentiously) with the same “cast,” among them: his “work wife” Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen); one-time Apple CEO John Sculley; and Jobs’ daughter, Lisa.
Thus, this is not a strict bio-pic, but an exercise in exploring what drove Jobs to succeed, even as he alienated friends, family and co-workers. Tricky stuff, and particularly for Jobs, who masterfully created his own publicly embraced mythologies. The script flirts with explanations for Jobs’ bad behavior, offering adoption trauma, control issues and a God complex. Similarly, it’s hard to pin down what Jobs’ gift was, and like other bios, Steve Jobs decides it was some kind of vision thing that inspired (or browbeat) others into achieving greatness. (Jobs compares himself to an orchestra conductor, another misunderstood role given to guiding and hectoring.) The work is part exposé and part hagiography, a profile that demystifies and re-mystifies simultaneously.
But the film is an engaging outing despite its contradictions and its sometimes distracting theatricality; it has plenty of sharp dialogue and good performances. (I wish Rogen would explore more dramatic roles: The spats between Woz and Jobs are among the better scenes, illustrating the frustration felt between two men with incompatible creative natures.)
As odious as Jobs appears here, there’s an ace up his sleeve: We’re watching from the future, where Jobs has largely been proven right about how the computer industry would play out and what consumers want (or, perhaps, what he wanted us to want). Thus, the film winds up feeling like a redemption story, particularly if you’re willing to swallow its sentimental coda — all sunlight, soaring pop music and an off-the-cuff promise of a pocket device to hold up to 1,000 songs. It turns out the price of our adulation was as low as an iPod.