Movie review: 'Steve Jobs' Needs More Jobs, Less Sorkin
It's no surprise that the man who told the world to "think different" would be treated to a biopic that attempts to do the same.
In "Steve Jobs," the life of the late, visionary founder of Apple is distilled by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle down to three transformative moments: Apple's 1984 launch of the Macintosh, Jobs' 1988 rollout of the failed NeXT cube computer after he left Apple, and the triumphant 1998 introduction of the iMac after Jobs returned to the Apple fold and brought the company back from near bankruptcy.
Each of the three acts begins with Jobs (Michael Fassbender) as he's minutes from addressing adoring crowds of tech geeks. He fills his limited time backstage threatening staffers in a quest for perfection, making demands of his omnipresent marketing chief Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet in a near-thankless role), and confronting some emotionally charged relationships from his past.
There are run-ins with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the former Apple CEO/father figure that Jobs eventually accuses of sabotage and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the longtime friend stung by Jobs' unwillingness to give credit where it's due. Most pivotally, there are Jobs' cold exchanges with his ex Chrisanne (Katherine Waterston) and Lisa, the daughter he fought to deny was his, DNA evidence to the contrary.
A partial portrait emerges of a man obsessed with making computers that would be friendlier than he ever felt the need to be. But despite having his name in the title and a mesmerizing lead performance by Fassbender, Jobs isn't the dominant personality in this production. That place is assumed by Sorkin. (For his part, Boyle brings visual energy and atypical restraint.)
With the unique storytelling structure and lots of his reliably clever and crackling dialogue, it feels like the "West Wing" creator is angling for his own seat at the genius bar. While he earns points for not following the hackneyed Hollywood biopic formula, Sorkin's focus on the countdowns before major events plays directly into his most well-known strength: presenting walking-and-talking characters in deadline-driven crisis. By the time Wozniak and Sculley are rolled out for the third act to continue conversations that started in the first, it all comes off as just too calculated.
And ultimately, despite the non-traditional structure, the end goal of "Steve Jobs" is the same of most biopics: to turn its subject's personal issues into the stuff of legend, with an emphasis on the issues that take to the treatment easily.
(2 ½ stars)