The latest biopic on legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs may not have been first to the marketplace, but it is the far superior product that we deserved. Not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher led film of 2013 simply named "Jobs", this film sets itself apart on the strength of the performances it gives. "Steve Jobs" stars Michael Fassbender as the title character, and rather than focusing on the genius himself and giving you a beat by beat retelling of his lifetime, director Danny Boyle takes a different tact. "Steve Jobs" is, in essence, a film about relationships. Boyle broke down his story into 3 distinct acts, each centered around the unveiling of a new Jobs-created product into the marketplace. He used these 3 acts to study the contentious relationships that Steve Jobs had with those closest to him.
We open in 1984 just as the first Macintosh home computer is about to be revealed. Jobs is feeling the pressure of breaking away from the successful Apple II that his co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is still championing, with the computer that he is confident the public will clamor for. We're instantly confronted by Jobs' no nonsense demeanor that often crossed the line into abusive. He was notoriously demanding and domineering, never taking No for an anwer, and it is displayed early on as he battles his engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg, tremendous as always) over the design and capabilities of the Macintosh mere minutes before it's unveiling. His attacks on Hertzfeld veer into the range of belittling his engineer's character and threatening his career if things don't happen the way he wants them. This is a pattern that repeats itself throughout.
Another major event happening concurrently to this is the paternity fight Jobs is going through over a young girl named Lisa, who he denies is his daughter. The girl's mother, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson), takes public humiliation and denial of paternity from Jobs as she struggles to get the financial and emotional support they need. This leads to many emotional scenes over the course of the film as young Lisa grows up being held at arm's length from the man she knows as her father. This relationship seemed to be the one that ultimately caused the most consternation for Jobs.
The woman in charge of controlling the chaos both externally and internally with Jobs is his assistant and confidant, Joanna Hoffman, played wonderfully by Kate Winslet. As everything is swirling and Jobs is jumping his attention from one thing to the next, she works tirelessly to keep everything moving in the right direction, all while putting out the fires her boss is creating around her. Winslet was unsurprisingly a strong lead in this role. She never felt like her Hoffman was out of her depth as she stood up to the stubborn genius, finding the right angles to come at him with that would diffuse potential blowups.
After the launch of the Macintosh turned out to be a failure, Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels) is forced to take the step of removing Steve Jobs from the company. It's evident that Jobs' hubris in the face of failure got him booted from the company he helped to create.
This led to the second act, as Steve Jobs goes solo, working to unveil his NeXT Cube computer as a competitor to Apple. His relationship with Apple fracturing the way it had only seemed to push him further into a maniacal tyrant. His control complex drove himself and others to the brink. Again, as the product unveiling approaches, the familiar faces return. Wozniak comes offering an olive branch that only an old friend who has been through the real battles with can. It's obvious that Jobs and Woz have grown apart, but there's a connection that won't allow either man to completely sever ties.
Conversely, Scully comes not to offer peace but to settle scores. In this moment, Jeff Daniels announces that he will not be outshone by the performance that Fassbender is putting on. These two men trade wits as a verbal rumble breaks out with no Hoffman there to subdue it. This scene in particular stands out to me in a film full of stellar performances, and it solidifies the portrayal of Jobs as the unrepentant jerk hell-bent on revenge.
Finally, Boyle takes us ahead a decade to the imminent release of the groundbreaking iMac. It appears that Steve Jobs may have softened in the years in between. He's in his iconic black turtleneck and Levi's, no longer barking orders and even smiling a bit. He has reclaimed the company he founded and is on the doorstep of greatness. But all that quickly fades away during one uncomfortable public argument with Wozniak. The underlying dynamic between the old friends turns exceedingly bitter and the ruthlessness that Jobs exhibits is hard to watch. Seth Rogen does quite well in these moments playing the conscience that Jobs seems to have lost, attempting to save his friend's humanity even as he is being pushed away. He has a great line of dialogue that encapsulates their dynamic when he says "I am tired of being treated like I'm Ringo when I know I was John".
Director Danny Boyle promised us a warts and all look at who the late Steve Jobs really was. He took a man who has been lauded as a genius, but was in fact a very flawed human being, and showed the audience his humanity. He was happy to bend the will of those around him to obtain his desired results, and Boyle lets you make your judgement on how that affects you. Some will scoff at the portrayal of him, but what cannot be denied is the performance turned in by Michael Fassbender. He kept up a breakneck pace while giving you someone to be disgusted by, someone to fear, & someone to be inspired by for his vision. There were many notes in his performance and he used the entire orchestra to give his character nuance. Easily one of the year's best performances to date and blows the forgettable Kutcher performance away.
Jamison Rabbitt used to spend hours playing Larry Bird vs Dr J on his Apple II computer and dedicated summers to computer camp in order to maximize his nerdiness. Some embarrassing floppy disks still survive as evidence to this day. To find more from Jamison, check out his shows here, here, & HERE.