Superb acting doesn't quite save this film from being as good as it should've been
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) has assembled a first rate cast (Michael Fassbender plays Jobs and Kate Winslet plays his long suffering assistant Joanna Hoffman). While the movie is a timeline of crucial events in Jobs life, it's not, as writer Aaron Sorkin bluntly put it at a recent press conference for the film, a 'dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page.' Sorkin admitted that the script is his invention, and while the characters are real, most of the events that take place in the film are not. There is lots of conflict, with his daughter Lisa, and with his daughter's mother Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), conflicts that underpin and take over the whole movie. There is also conflict between Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who co-founded Apple with Jobs; and conflict between Jobs and then Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), a man who Jobs hired for the role. This is not to mention Hoffman's conflict she had in keeping up with Jobs and his temperament, and for keeping her love for him a secret for many years, according to Boyle's version of events.
Boyle comes from a theatre background, and he shot 'Steve Jobs' in three acts, acts that all deal with Jobs' product launches. Act 1, which takes place in San Francisco in 1984, was shot in 16mm to give the look of the film a rough homemade feel. It's an act that introduces the world to Job's (and Wozniak's) Macintosh computer. It's a computer that is one of a kind, a device that they hope will reinvent the way people do stuff. But it wasn't Apple's computer that had recently made Time Magazine's 'Man of the Year,' it was an IBM. To say Jobs is bitter is an understatement. Meanwhile, Brennan shows up to tell him that she's got no money to pay the bills, that's he's not taking care of his daughter Lisa the way he should be (Lisa is played by various actresses as she gets older), yet he's worth an estimated $484 million and pretty much fobs her off. But it's minutes to the Mac product launch, and there's a problem with the computer that will be used during the launch show. And Jobs makes Hoffman find a white shirt with a pocket so that the shirt the has on won't clash with the colors on stage. It's a lot of conflict for just one act - Shakespearean even. And even Wozniak gets to throw a barb in his direction by telling Jobs 'Computers aren't supposed to have human flaws, I'm not going to build one with yours.' Ouch. And Scully wants to sell the Mac at a much higher price than Jobs recommends.
But the Mac was a failure, sales never live up to expectations, so Jobs is fired from Apple (after a massive row with Scully and the board of directors) and sets up his own company - Next. Act 2 then takes place in the lead up to the launch of Next's Black Cube, also in San Francisco, in 1988. It's a computer where Jobs confesses has no Operating System! It's like building a great car but with no engine. So it's not a great start to the Black Cube. And Lisa is lurking in the background again, asking Jobs lots of questions. She's missing school just to be with him and she says she wants to live with him. And Brennan is still bitter. Jobs is becoming crazy, desperate and angry. But one year later the Black Cube is a failure, and Jobs was able to convince Apple to buy Next.
By 1998, Act 3, Jobs is back at Apple, he's got the gold rim glasses, black sweater, jeans, tall, lanky and thin. And it's another launch, this one for Apple's new computer iMac, a bulbous computer very sleek in design. But Jobs has just found out that one of his lieutenants, Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg), has paid for Lisa's Harvard education. And yes, again, Lisa is there, right before another product launch, and she's there we presume to create more conflict and drama as if it's not already palpable. And Jobs is so obsessed with work that he forgets his true responsibility - his daughter. And he's launching the Apple as we know it today, a logo of an Apple with a bite on the upper right hand side, but Wozniak is still in conflict with Jobs, even though they're still working together. He tells Jobs: 'I am tired of being Ringo instead of being John.' With all this going on, and with Jobs needing to be on stage in a couple minutes, he feels that he must resolve the biggest conflict he's got, with his daughter. And this is what he does, with much chagrin to the investors waiting in the auditorium. And then all is right with his world.
'Steve Jobs' ultimately turns into Boyle's vision of Steve Jobs. Think of it this way; this movie is made up almost mostly of events and conversations that didn't happen. And that is what is most disappointing about 'Steve Jobs.' It's going to have to be accepted as a work of fiction. But Jobs was such a fascinating man and made a huge impact to the world, why would an Oscar-winning director do this?