Directed by Danny Boyle.
2015. Rated R, 122 minutes.
We hang around Apple co-founder and eventual CEO Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) during three of the biggest moments of his career. All of them are product launches, open to the public. The first is the launch of the Macintosh, or Mac for short, in 1984. Second is the launch of the NeXT in 1988. Finally, is the unveiling of the iMac in 1998. At each of these events we see him backstage minutes before the show is to begin. While dealing with whatever last minute preparations before going onstage, he also deals with all sorts of personal and professional issues. On the personal side, the biggest topic is his relationship, or lack thereof, with his daughter Lisa (handled by three different actresses to portray the ages of 5, 9, and 19). With this also comes his dealings with her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston). On a professional level, it's mostly about his strained relationship with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) who served as Apple CEO from 1983 to 1993. We also look at Steve's relationships with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of the original members of the team that created the Mac. This side of the equation gets the occasional flashback to temporarily remove us from the backstage setting. Included in all of this, keeping his entire world from bursting at the seams, is his trusty marketing exec Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet).
There is greatness on this film's surface. It is technically proficient and just looks fantastic on the screen. Mostly muted colors make the occasional bursts of vividness really pop in our eyes. This even applies to the contrast in the clothing of Jobs, crisp and sharp whites and blacks, with that of others. In particular, it makes the not-so-crisp outfits worn by Crisann and Lisa feel that much dingier and frumpier. The actors are also remarkable. Fassbender commands the screen as surely as Jobs is said to command those around him. Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen are both great in their roles, as is Michael Stuhlbarg. Katherine Waterston's performance has gone shamefully overlooked. Last, but certainly not least, Kate Winslet not only holds Jobs together as Hoffman, but she holds the entire film together. All of this combines to make Steve Jobs a fascinating watch.
Unfortunately, the film never goes beyond being merely fascinating. The problem might sound like an odd one, but it's entirely too much like its protagonist. Jobs comes across as cold and calculating as the technology for which he serves as the face. The movie feels the same way. The continuous backstage-at-a-huge-event setting makes everything feel hectic and impersonal. The issues with his daughter feel as if it's just one more thing to deal with before getting in front of the audience. His relationship with Wozniak is reduced to Woz just showing up at these events begging Jobs to say thank you to the people who created the Apple II. Jobs-Scully is a soap opera tale of betrayal and back-biting. His relationship with Hoffman feels rather ambiguous even though the film takes great pains to make sure we know it's platonic. Despite all the great acting, with nothing to anchor the characters on the screen in our hearts it feels like just that, acting. When we get a comparatively cuddly Jobs during the third act, at least towards most of his colleagues, it doesn't feel earned. We just have to accept it's something he learned in the ten years between this and the prior act. This still leaves us with a major showdown with Lisa which feels too neatly resolved. It may really have happened that way, but still comes off far too easy on the screen. In the end, it's not a bad movie, but it's one that I could never really get into. It's a cold, distant film about a cold, distant man.