To understand just how much of a mystery Apple founder Steve Jobs is, one only needs to look at the number of films that have tried to figure him out. There have been documentaries, one feature film led by Ashton Kutcher (it wasn't as bad as it sounds) and only a couple of years later we have Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, a brilliant, rapid-fire examination of parenthood, ego, and maniacal genius told in a refreshingly innovative way that Jobs himself would have loved.
Split into three distinct chapters covering three of Jobs' biggest product launches, Sorkin uses this three-act-play structure to also explore key facets of personal and professional life. While much of the film is based on Walter Isaacson's book, Sorkin does what he has always done which is extrapolate wildly, giving an approximation of Jobs as megalomaniacal madman and brilliant virtuoso. Michael Fassbender tackles the role of Jobs and, let's be honest; the two look nothing alike. But that's actually a good thing; a little bit of distance from the reality is what's called for here. And yet Fassbender melts into the role so easily that you soon forget the difference and embrace his version, which presents Jobs as a calculating, cold-hearted douchebag, someone who disregards the people in his life in favor of press clippings about his own greatness.
And yet Jobs suffers one public and personal disgrace after another, but what's interesting is how he copes and manipulates these failures to suit his warped perspective. Much is made about the "reality distortion field" that surrounds him; anything and anyone that doesn't fit into the view he's constructed are callously disregarded. The first chapter takes place minutes prior to the Macintosh launch in 1984, just days after that incredible '1984' Super Bowl ad. In a comical turn of events that will be repeated throughout the film, Jobs is confronted with conflicts both big and small, but it's his perception of which is which that is fascinating. He can obsesses of a TIME magazine article that doesn't feature him on the cover, while barely considering the presence of his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) who needs help taking care of their daughter Lisa (played through different periods by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine), a child he denies paternity of. Meanwhile, the Mac launch is looking like a potential disaster and chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is out of ideas on how to fix it, while Jobs' right-hand-woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) runs around like a chicken with her head cut off.
If it sounds like a maddening screwball comedy that's for a good reason; Sorkin's screenplay runs at the same kind of frantic pace with plenty of his trademark "walking and talking". You learn about these characters on the fly, and the beauty of Sorkin's screenplay is how much information about them he packs in without pausing to take a breath. Prior conversations are referred to later on, taking on a different, richer meaning that illuminates our understanding of each character further. None more so than Seth Rogen as the underappreciated Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple with Jobs and yearns for some kind of recognition, not from the media but from his longtime friend. There's also Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, whose status as a "father figure" to Jobs puts him in a perilous position. Daniels, who worked with Sorkin on HBO's The Newsroom, fares better than anyone handling the rat-a-tat speed of the dialogue.
The following chapters take place in 1988 before the launch of the mega-flop NeXT device, which is basically just a really pretty black cube that does nothing, followed by the 1998 debut of the IMac, which would revitalize Jobs' career at Apple. Boyle, along with cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler (Sunshine) give each era its own defined look perfect for the era, going from 16mm to 35mm and ultimately digital in the later period. The upbeat pace of Sorkin's screenplay makes beautiful music with Boyle's kinetic tempo, but it should be said this is probably one of the filmmaker's more reserved efforts from a visual standpoint. That said; he throws in some sweet touches, sprucing up a hallway conversation with footage from a shuttle launch emblazoned on the surrounding walls.
While all of the performances are top notch, there are two unquestioned stars that stand out above the rest. One is obviously Fassbender, who undoubtedly has awards nominations in his future for it. Those who want to underestimate him even at this stage will think differently afterwards. It's a tough role to master, given that Jobs is presented as being so unfeeling and cruel, but Fassbender also captures the charisma that inspired so much loyalty. The other breakout is Sorkin, and this is unquestionably his movie. It was his screenplay that initially attracted David Fincher for a potential The Social Network reunion, and maybe the film would have looked noticeably different under his guidance but it still would have been Sorkin's. No screenwriter leaves the kind of immediate imprint that Sorkin does; you know within moments that you're watching one of his movies. All of his flaws are present, as well, including an overly sentimental finale that simply doesn't mesh with the rest of the film. Emotional restraint has never been Sorkin's strong suit; it's always all or nothing and for the most part that works in the film's favor, but the resolution of the father/daughter subplot is simply too contrived and feels out of place.
Minor issues aside, Steve Jobs is an exhilarating, heart-stopping experience, something you probably wouldn't expect to hear of a film about Apple computers. There will likely be other films about Jobs that will attempt to decode who the man really was, but guaranteed none of them will be quite like this one.