You wouldn’t expect director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin to deliver a conventional biography of Steve Jobs—and they don’t. What we get, instead, is a vivid “imagining” (to use Boyle’s word) of Jobs’ life, told in dynamic, nonlinear fashion. It’s not a stretch to compare it to Citizen Kane, piecing together the puzzle of a high-profile life, although this film focuses on a real-life figure whose narrative has become the stuff of modern mythology. As such, it assumes that we’re already familiar with many of the basics.
Sorkin has built his clever screenplay around three turning points in Jobs’ career, all of them product announcements. Much of the drama takes place backstage, in the high-pressure moments before he’s about to unveil something new and revolutionary. Each of these chapters is interrupted by flashbacks that help fill in the personal and professional backstory. The linking device is the repudiation of his daughter, who grows from a child to young womanhood over the course of the film. I leave it to you to discover what constitutes Jobs’ equivalent of the Rosebud sled.
Boyle has brought his visual razzle-dazzle to an already charged screenplay, with impressive results. He and cinematographer Alwin Kuchler take full advantage of their Bay Area locations, including the San Francisco Opera House, and make us feel as if we’re actually there, sharing private moments with Jobs and his colleagues. The film rarely stops moving and is filled with Sorkin’s trademark walking-and-talking shots.
Michael Fassbender gives another exceptional performance, melting into his character, a man who doesn’t care if he’s liked or not. He cares about success, and it matters to him how his product is perceived and received. But he doesn’t give a damn about morale or whose toes get stepped on. He is, as he must have been in real life, a very compelling person.
Fassbender is ably supported by Kate Winslet, as his loyal but long-suffering marketing director Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogen as the unappreciated Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as businessman John Sculley, Michael Stuhlbarg as the much-abused Andy Hertzfeld, and Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ onetime companion and the mother of his purported child.
One cannot really characterize this as a biopic, because it’s not. There is no attempt to trace his story from cradle to grave. Instead, we get a pointed exploration of a modern icon’s public and private life, told in bullet-points. Supporters of Jobs have accused it of being too harsh and not giving him sufficient credit for the great things he accomplished. Sorkin attempts to make up for this in the concluding scenes, but the overall impression we’re left with is a man who followed his destiny without regard for anyone else. Is it true? I have no way of knowing. Is it a riveting and highly entertaining movie? Yes it is.