Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A brilliant tech business man leaves an indelible impression on the world, but also alienates those around him in the process. That’s roughly the premise of Danny Boyle’s new biopic “Steve Jobs,” which follows the titular character backstage at three product launches across sixteen years. Michael Fassbender plays the irascible, demanding Jobs who constantly seeks to convince the world of his genius with little regard for how his behavior affects his team, like Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a member of the original Mac and NeXT team, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the creator of the Apple I and II, and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the CEO of Apple. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the film adopts the writer’s dialogical rhythms, including his love of wordy speeches, but mainly seeks to capture the essence of Jobs himself at three key moments in his life rather than attempting a comprehensive portrait, focusing on how his hubris both propelled his company forward and stalled his personal life, especially with his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) and their five-year-old daughter that he denies is his. Critics mostly liked the film, but point to its many flaws. Some blame Sorkin for his stifling dialogue crushing against the stakes of the narrative, and others blame Boyle for his distracting camera work getting in the way of both the script and the story. “Steve Jobs” opens October 9th.
Reviews of “Steve Jobs”
Sasha Stone, The Wrap
Those of us who grip our iPhones, type on our MacBooks, listen to our iTunes and tap on our iPads know the story of Apple. We know these beautiful items were credited after Jobs was brought back to save the company he’d co-founded from bankruptcy. We also know the withered cancer victim who fought back death until it finally carried him under. This film isn’t about that story. It isn’t about nature casually discarding even the most valued among us. As Bob Marley was quoted as saying, “All the money in the world can’t buy you a minute more of life.” Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs” is about how we measure success and failure. Jobs could not really achieve greatness without recognizing the most important thing in his life: his biological daughter Lisa Brennan. His success could not be measured by the pretty toys alone. His success must come from his willingness to connect with his own flesh and blood. In the film, much is made of Jobs’ own adoption as a main reason he has so much trouble with his own daughter. This damaged relationship is played out alongside Jobs’ career highs and lows. None of his successes will matter in the end if he can’t do the right thing, which means more than just writing a check. That is probably the most surprising thing of all — how Boyle and Sorkin launched an excavation to find Steve Jobs’ heart.
Justin Chang, Variety
Indeed, all but Jobs’ most violent detractors may take issue with a picture that can be read on one level as a form of high-end character assassination, and on another as a live-action cartoon. Sorkin’s warts-and-all approach is so thorough that it seems to discover warts on top of warts; you’d have to go back to “There Will Be Blood” to find another Hollywood antihero so willing to isolate himself from others, and to pursue his dreams with such vicious single-mindedness. This isn’t, of course, the first time Sorkin has turned an unflattering eye on a tech-world revolutionary, and those viewers who thought “The Social Network” was a bit too show-offy will find this even more brazenly written picture truly insufferable by comparison. The virtues of Sorkin’s style are as self-evident as the vices; his work here is by turns ferociously inventive and cloddishly on-the-nose — a high-wire achievement that’s easy to admire even when it’s nearly impossible to like. And something similar could surely be said of Steve Jobs himself, whose profound disinterest in soliciting anyone’s affection is what ultimately lends Boyle and Sorkin’s film its underlying integrity, despite the outrageous factual, dramatic and aesthetic liberties they’ve taken with the material. In this unabashedly fictionalized context, Fassbender overcomes the obvious casting hurdle (he looks nothing like Jobs, whose Arab-American lineage is briefly referenced) and delivers a performance as enthralling and fully sustained as any on his estimable resume. That the actor is onscreen at every minute makes it all the better that it’s impossible to take your eyes off him, or your ears: This is an actor who knows exactly how to toss off Sorkin’s dialogue, emphasizing rhythm and inflection over volume, while embodying confidence and authority in his every atom. It’s a performance that sets the tone for equally fine work all around: Rogen delivers a lovable, downright huggable spin on Wozniak; Stuhlbarg mines layers of wry wisdom from Hertzfeld; and as Jobs’ right-hand woman, Winslet overcomes a wobbly Polish accent to provide the audience with an essential lifeline to reason and sanity.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Propulsively fast, fleet and inquisitive, the film is at the same time somewhat less flashy than most of Boyle’s most famous and successful works, including “Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours.” Due to its “backstage” setting and approximate real-time frame, “Jobs” can’t help but provoke memories of the recent “Birdman,” which breathtakingly covered continuous action with unprecedented fluidity. Boyle’s sophisticated but pragmatic visual approach to evoking a maelstrom of activity stands somewhere between that and more conventional cinema-verite, befitting, perhaps, the period in which it’s set. But hardly any of this would matter without a dynamic actor at the center of things nailing the part of Jobs, and while Fassbender doesn’t closely physically resemble the man, he fully delivers the essentials of how we have come to perceive the man: Along with intellectual brilliance and force of personality, the actor also taps into the man’s frequently unreachability, power to inspire, unswerving faith in his own instincts, attention to the smallest detail, utter lack of sentimentality and the certitude that can come from occupying a different, loftier realm. Most of all, you get the strong sense from Fassbender of a mind that is always several steps beyond everyone else’s, one that allows him to shift gears without taking a breath.
David Ehrlich, Time Out
By the time the film gets to 1998, Fassbender has not only become the spitting image of the person he’s playing (the short hair and frameless glasses go a long way), he’s also made him distinct from his legacy, sprinting along the pencil-thin line between the genius the world got to know and the sociopath we would hear about in whispers. Alas, even Fassbender’s miraculous performance can’t save director Boyle from himself: After nearly two hours of keeping his worst impulses at bay (prepare to roll your eyes as the image stutters like a computer screen about to freeze), Boyle’s shoot-for-the-moon instincts seize on the one maudlin note of Sorkin’s script and drive home the final minutes with a wallop of well-meaning schmaltz that reeks of candied bullshit. Boyle’s decent nature is diametrically opposed to that of his subject. What’s left in the rubble may not be perfect, but it’s human, and that’s okay.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Meanwhile, visits from Sculley and Woz yield snippets of their own rocky history with Jobs, with jagged flashbacks that mark the only moments when the movie ventures beyond indoor arenas. These scenes, while snazzily woven into the story, nevertheless suffer from the feeling of piling on to an already busy set of events and simply echoing events already described. Of course, Sorkin screenplays rarely go hand in hand with nuance, a tendency that reaches maddening extremes in “Steve Jobs.” For similar reasons, the movie displays the limits of Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue as much as its virtues. There’s plenty of amusing banter (to Woz’s insistence that “computers aren’t paintings,” Jobs routinely offers a resounding “fuck you”). But constant overstatement distracts from the speedy drama at hand (“God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but we like him anyway because he made trees,” Jobs exclaims at one point, and you can practically hear Sorkin chuckling at his cleverness in the background). Worse, the movie includes the occasional winking hint at Apple’s future, including one unnecessary moment when Jobs boasts of plans to “put music in your pocket.” Yet structurally, Sorkin has delivered a masterwork of narrative economy. Never once showing Jobs actually delivering his speeches, “Steve Jobs” instead demystifies those famed performances to find Jobs in his natural state — that is, keen on manipulating everyone around him, and furious when the pieces don’t fit. The only reality he knows involves his domination.
Gregory Ellwood, HitFix
With about 10 minutes left in the picture, Boyle finally seems to be able to free himself from the stylistic shackles of Sorkin’s screenplay. There is an important scene on a rooftop that plays out with a patience missing earlier in the picture and the final sequence in the movie is pure Boyle. That being said, Sorkin’s voice dominates the discourse and the film rarely has a chance to catch its collective breath. While you have to give the duo credit for attempting an unconventional structure, it’s a choice that arguably only works thanks to the contributions of a stellar ensemble. And, frankly, that’s not where most would expect a Boyle and Sorkin collaboration to land.
Benjamin Lee, The Guardian
The dialogue stifles, as is often the case with latter-day Sorkin, and the actors are tasked with trying to wrangle enough breathing space to offer up something of their own. Fassbender succeeds and gives a self-assured, Oscar-friendly turn. If his semi-autistic egotist comes a second place to Jesse Eisenberg’s similarly frustrating Mark Zuckerberg, that’s not through lack of trying. Winslet is a strong presence, even if her Polish/American accent wavers distractingly, while Rogen is given precious little to do. It’s Boyle’s best film for years, however. This is admittedly faint praise but it’s worth recognizing a leap in maturity, with a stronger focus on performances over his trademark flashiness. His often distracting jukebox of song choices has also been largely replaced by mood-enhancing orchestral choices. But, like the actors, he also plays second fiddle to Sorkin’s dominating script. One wonders how Fincher would have dealt with it or whether he left the project, realizing that no director could possibly compete.