Aaron Sorkin leaves his imprint on everything he touches — it takes a strong director to submerge Sorkin’s voice, and only David Fincher has come close in The Social Network, successfully merging his own vision with the voice of Sorkin. They say film is a director’s medium, but not when Sorkin is involved: Moneyball, The American President, and Charlie Wilson’s War were Sorkin films, in spite of whatever director was attached. Steve Jobs is no different: Danny Boyle is a brilliant director with a distinct visual style, which you can see in films like Trainspotting and Millions and 28 Days Later, but despite all the technical achievements he brings to Steve Jobs, there’s never a moment where we forget that this is an Aaron Sorkin film.
If you’re a Sorkin fan (as I unabashedly am), that’s great news, and I find almost nothing as thrilling as seeing incredible Oscar-worthy actors being reduced to Sorkin mouthpieces. There’s a rhythm to it, an unmistakable patter, a heady mixture of condescension, self-righteousness, and mawkishness, and Steve Jobs is basically two hours of Michael Fassbender channeling President Bartlett channeling Jobs, telling everyone around them to stand there in their wrongness. Aaron Sorkin could find the tortured humanity in Satan, and in Steve Jobs, he’s done the next hardest thing: He’s humanized Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs is not an accurate depiction of the man, but it’s not trying to be. If you want an accurate depiction of Steve Jobs’ life, watch Alex Gibney’s documentary. Even Ashton Kutcher’s terrible Jobs relays the history better. Sorkin’s Steve Jobs is more interested in capturing the essence of Jobs, and then leavening the essence of asshole with a humanizing subplot concerning Jobs’ daughter that borders on hagiography. It’s not good history, but it’s an outstanding movie.
Steve Jobs takes advantage of Sorkin’s love of behind-the-scenes machinations, setting the movie entirely behind the scenes of three different product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. Before each of these launches, Jobs has extended conversations with the same people: Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of his daughter, Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo; and Makenzie Moss); Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen); Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), who was on the original Mac design team; and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the former CEO of Pepsi who became the CEO of Apple and Jobs’ father-figure/mentor. Jobs’ marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) essentially functions as a sounding board for Jobs and as someone who facilitates Jobs’ ability to walk-and-talk from one encounter to the next.
It’s two-hours of talking that could easily be translated to the stage with very few tweaks. The conversations between these characters, however, are exhilarating. It’s a series of verbal sparring matches, and the Sorkin right hooks are blistering. There are three or four sequences so breathtaking that your heart may briefly stop.
Indeed, Fassbender is so intense and ferocious in his delivery that if he were the actual Steve Jobs, the entire Mac design team would’ve wanted to kill themselves but would’ve been too afraid to do so. Everyone else is brilliant, as well: Daniels essentially plays Will McAvoy; Stuhlbarg is transformative; Winslet masterfully brings heart and the voice of reason; and Seth Rogen has never been a better actor. Sorkin does for Rogen what he did for Jonah Hill in Moneyball: He turns him into an a guy worthy of an Oscar. In fact, the entire supporting cast could be nominated, along with Fassbender, and the only thing keeping Sorkin from winning for Best Screenplay are concerns from Academy voters that his ego is already too inflated.
That said, Steve Jobs is not for everyone: If you’re looking for accuracy, look elsewhere. If Sorkin’s dialogue rubs you the wrong way, stay away. If Michael Fassbender’s piercing eyes, imposing delivery, narcissistic charm, and ravishing good looks scare you, go watch something else. For everyone else, brace yourself for the assault. It’s an invigorating biography told in a completely unconventional manner by actors who have never been as good as they are delivering Sorkin’s words. Indeed, there’s no better asshole than Aaron Sorkin to tell the story of the greatest asshole of our time, Steve Jobs.