One of the complaints you often hear about biopics is that they don’t get the facts right. They take too many liberties with the source material and distort their subjects so much that it becomes a disservice to the individual. And while this is true in some circumstances (“A Beautiful Mind” (2001) for instance), it is unrealistic to expect biographical truth from any film. The human life is too complex, too nuanced, too multi-dimensional to completely capture in two hours. All we can expect is a dramatization that captures the spirit of the individual. So it is that “Steve Jobs”, the latest biopic of the famed computer whiz, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, captures the spirit and complexity of its titular subject.
Jobs, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, is presented as a megalomaniac, running over anyone who doesn’t follow his lead. The real Jobs’ widow attempted to shut down the production of the film because of its harsh portrayal, but there is no denying that just based on the facts of the man’s life, his refusal to recognize his daughter, his firing and return to Apple and his strained relationship with co-inventor Steve Wozniak, that the man was no saint. The film expertly captures the dark nature of the booming computer business from the 1980s into the 1990s, and Jobs represents the struggle at the top of the food chain, the man who refuses to be swept aside, who knows that his vision is the only one that can bring about the revolution the world deserves. So while he is indeed a jerk, he is also an icon that has transformed the world, and the film views him as such.
The film is structured in three specific acts, each featuring the debut of a new Jobs’ product: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT cube in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. The same characters keep appearing in these scenes as well, each helping to peel back a layer of Jobs: Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan and three different actresses (Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss) playing Jobs’ daughter, Lisa.
Jobs spends the film arguing with those around him, taking credit for things he likes, bashing things he doesn’t, using people as a means to an end. He mentions during one of his fights with Wozniak that, “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.” He is the conductor of the computing world, pushing everyone he knows to reach the apex of technological perfection. And with tried and true Sorkin-esque dialogue, it is an impressive display of barbs, quips and put downs.
This is not to say the film does not have issues. It goes by so fast sometimes that it is difficult to keep up. Jobs borders so heavily on unlikable that many may simply lose compassion in the man (though his personal drive makes him endlessly interesting). And there is not a complete conclusion, the third act ending abruptly on a somewhat predictable note.
But Sorkin, Boyle and Fassbender are all at the top of their game. It is a moving, heartfelt film that illuminates one of the 20th century’s most interesting individuals. It reminds us that we are still in the midst of the technological revolution, but no one has yet to take the baton from our previous conductor.