Preparing to give a public demonstration of the new Macintosh computer Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his engineers, because the vocal program is having a hard time saying “Hello.” Jobs wants to show how friendly the Macintosh is and refuses to pull it from the demonstration. His long-suffering personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is attempting to coordinate the presentation while wrangling the taciturn Jobs. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) is trying to get Jobs to thank the Apple II engineers during the presentation but Jobs refuses saying it looks back in the past and the Macintosh is the future. Waiting backstage is Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) with her daughter Lisa. Based on a blood test a judge ruled that Jobs was Lisa’s father but he denies that. In a magazine article, Jobs says that up to 28% of the men in America could also be Lisa’s father. This angers Chrisann as it appears Jobs is saying she sleeps with many different men. Chrisann wants money over and above the child support the judge granted her. Jobs only pays attention to Lisa when she takes an interest in the Macintosh in the dressing room.
“Steve Jobs” tells a story about the face of Apple using three product launch events in front of hundreds of adoring fans. Jobs could do no wrong in their eyes and everything he touched they thought was the next big thing. In the film, Jobs seems to only be comfortable on the stage in front of those that didn’t know him. In the film, being a part of Steve Jobs life seemed like a less than pleasant experience. The movie also is less than pleasant as it loses its belief in itself and tries to turn Steve Jobs into a misunderstood teddy bear.
Michael Fassbender may get some awards season love for playing the title role. His performance is mesmerizing. Jobs is a ball of energy that can become dangerously focused on anyone that he feels has done him a disservice or isn’t living up to his expectations. Jobs is shown in the film as a man with a singular vision he feels must be put forth unadulterated. It’s the same whether he’s involved in business or personal matters. Fassbender is absorbed in the role and it must have been emotionally taxing for him. Playing a person of such conviction and willingness to mow down anyone that might get in the way has to take its toll. Fassbender manages to be charismatic even when making threats or explaining something that doesn’t need explaining. His performance, and the performances of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels Katherine Waterston and the rest of the cast, is outstanding. Sadly, they are all let down by a script that doesn’t believe in its own convictions.
While Steve Jobs is shown to be able to express a tiny amount of warmth and compassion, the majority of the movie’s two hour running time is spent showing the man as the lowest form of life. He’s rude, egotistical and doesn’t take anyone’s feelings into consideration. If he was anything like portrayed on screen it’s a miracle someone didn’t put a bullet in him at some time in his life. Writer Aaron Sorkin does a good job of making Jobs unlikable. Then, out of left field, we get a scene that could best be described as redemptive. For me, it completely didn’t work. It is pounded into our minds what a dirt bag Jobs is. He denies Lisa is his daughter, he threatens to have Chrisann killed, he is prepared to embarrass one of his engineers in front of an auditorium full of people if the Macintosh voice synthesizer doesn’t work and that’s just a few of the things shown in the movie and then, without any set up or evidence to the contrary, we are shown a warm and fuzzy Steve Jobs. Perhaps, as he aged, Jobs become more human. The movie doesn’t give us any indication that it happens or why. One of the most brutal confrontations occurs not long before this miraculous conversion. Jobs is as blunt and biting as he is in any other scene in the movie and then, a few minutes later, he’s overflowing with love, compassion and contrition. It takes what is a scathing portrait of a well-known figure and cheapens it into a feel-good family melodrama.
“Steve Jobs” is rated R for language. Foul language is infrequent.
I realize I’m in the minority on this one but “Steve Jobs” isn’t the brave and searing portrait of one of the best known tech giants in history; instead, it shows us a flawed but brilliant man and tries to redeem him using cheap emotional tricks. Jobs deserved better.