Give screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle credit for making a biopic that skirts tradition. Give them demerits for the Aaron Sorkin-ness of it all, the non-Danny Boyle-ness of it all.
Sorkin has written a screenplay that resembles a three-act play—he did start his career as a playwright, after all. And he has filled it with all the things Sorkin fans love. There's the rapid-fire dialogue in which each character speaks in the same voice, sometimes even speaking the same sentences in the same scene ("I don't know what that means" is a big one). There is the blocking that dictates the actors must almost always be on the move (in those moments Boyle channels his inner Thomas Schlamme, director of many episodes of "The West Wing," but thankfully leaves out the hot spots).
Most exhaustingly, Sorkin deploys the writerly contrivance of setting all the action moments before Big Events—the product launches of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. You know what's perfect for ramping up the tension, kids? When the main character has a finite amount of time to resolve a bunch of personal and professional problems before he has to talk to thousands of punters about his latest gizmo!
Steve Jobs focuses on Jobs (Michael Fassbender, who looks and sounds nothing like the Apple co-founder but gives a decent performance) and his shitty personal relationships with his daughter Lisa, her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), his put-upon employee Joanna (Kate Winslet), Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), and Apple guru Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). Learn about Jobs' feelings about his two adoptions, his biological father, his treatment of the Apple II team, his dismissal from Apple, his terrible parenting skills, and his complete lack of empathy.
Or don't. Few of the moments in this movie happened the way they're rolled out here—what are the odds that every intimate crisis a person has ever had will need to be ironed out in the 40 minutes before a product launch? Or before three product launches?
It isn't all bad. Rogen is a charming Wozniak, and there's a dynamite scene in the movie's NeXT section between Fassbender and Jeff Daniels, who plays former Apple CEO John Sculley. If there had been more moments like the Jobs/Sculley scenes and fewer like all the others, Steve Jobs would be much, much better. As it is, it's pretty humdrum.
Steve Jobs (R)
Dir. Danny Boyle; writ. Aaron Sorkin; feat. Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels
Opens Friday, October 23, Two stars
Steve Jobs is a polarizing figure, even for those enrapt in his latest iGadgets and still trying to scratch the original iPod apple sticker off of their '98 Prius. He is one of the few meta-nerds that has garnered a following not just for his contributions to the tech industry but also for his personal pension for turtlenecks, totally screwing over partner Steve Wozniak, and just being kind of a dick. Here are some other films that take on the guy who couldn't find an app for fixing his pancreas.
Written in three days and shot in five, iSteve, is the first full-length film from Will Ferrel's Funny or Die online comedy outlet. A parody of the trials and tribulations of Jobs' trek through the highs of "Silicon Mountain" and the lows of "Silicon Valley," as the first biopic released after Jobs' death from cancer in 2011, it is enjoyably sacrilegious and irreverent. The virtual reality sex scene is super hawt. -D.T. Buffkin
Written while Jobs was on medical leave for Pancreatic cancer, this 2013 bio-fiction follows Steve Jobs' life from the Los Altos garage days through his re-hiring and the iconic Think Different commercial. The first image of the movie, the introduction of the iPod in 2001, is the last chronological moment, assuming you know the story of Apple's mid-aught innovation and market domination. And, like that first iPod, Ashton Kutcher's haircut and presentation feels pretty clunky. -Matt Stieb
Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview
I'm not sure which is more nauseating: the idea of sitting through seventy minutes of Steve Jobs prattling on about the advantages of a yet to be realized iLife - which is rapidly consuming every aspect of organic culture - or knowing that Mark Cuban helped make this Urkel-circle-jerk a reality. -D.T. Buffkin
Steve Jobs: One Last Thing
This PBS profile from 2011 explores the difficult visionary through interviews with Apple co-founder Ronald Wayne, Steve Wozniak, Pixar co-founder Alvy Smith and others. Jobs himself weighs in on his legacy, speaking in 2004, a year after he was first diagnosed with cancer. -Matt Stieb