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Steve Jobs review: Not historically accurate, but true

Steve Jobs review
Steve Jobs
Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man at its epicenter.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Produced by: Scott Rudin
Starring:
Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

Even if you hate Apple as a company and despise everything it has ever released, it’s tough not to appreciate, even grudgingly, the importance of Steve Jobs. You don’t need to like the guy, and you can even actively dislike many of his decisions, but you can’t deny his influence on modern tech.

And it’s fair to dislike him. He did some remarkable things, and some despicable things too. He was a nightmare to work for, saw himself as a visionary long before anyone else did, and treated his daughter like crap for years. And yet the world would be very different without him.

He was not a simple personality, and that’s what makes the portrayal of the man in Steve Jobs so impressive – or at least that’s one of the things that makes the film so impressive, and there are many.

Steve Jobs review

Tech has changed the world, and Jobs was a central figure in that revolution. Steve Jobs gets that. In fact, it takes it for granted – and rightly so.

There is very little time spent describing the tech itself, and you don’t need to know a thing about processors, memory, or anything like that. The movie just assumes that you understand the importance of things like the introduction of the iMac and Jobs’s return to Apple.

That may scare off those that managed to miss the 80s and 90s, but when the film does delve into the importance of Jobs’s products, it does so from a very human level. It’s relatable, even if you don’t know the greater context. But even then, the movie isn’t about tech – it’s about the man.

Steve Jobs is remarkably economical in its storytelling. The film focuses on three specific announcements made by Jobs: the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh, the 1988 unveiling of NeXT, and the 1998 debut of the iMac.

There are a few other moments intertwined, including moments of Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in the near mythic garage in Los Altos where Apple was created, and the infamous board meeting that saw Jobs fired from Apple in 1985. That’s about it though.

Steve Jobs review

Director Danny Boyle is well known for fast edits and imaginative ways of shooting a scene, but with Steve Jobs he deliberately limits himself to three set pieces – and it works.

Limiting the visuals and keeping the technical aspects to a minimum puts the auspice on the actors and the Aaron Sorkin script. It succeeds thanks to two Oscar worthy performances.

First, it’s important to note that the story takes a lot of historical liberties. A whole lot. A whole, whole lot.

It skips a few key steps between each event, and it’s basically a fictional retelling of real events. That doesn’t matter though. It isn’t a documentary, and it isn’t supposed to be. What it does do, is capture the spirit of the people and events. Jobs may or may not have threatened an employee before an event, but he had it in him.

Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs. There is a scene early on when Fassbender is changing shirts, and his Hollywood physique stands in stark, almost laughable contrast to Jobs’s slender frame. It doesn’t matter though, because Fassbender captures Jobs’s mannerisms shockingly well.

Steve Jobs review

Fassbender disappears into the role. His voice changes. His movements are different. He stops being the guy that played Magneto and becomes a driven and demanding tech guru. It’s almost shocking how easy it is to forget who you are looking at.

His performance is so good that he somewhat overshadows Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, one of Jobs’s few friends and confidants who stood with him throughout his career (which hardcore Jobs fans will recognize as something of a convenient fiction, but it is kind of based on fact).

Winslet is dwarfed by Fassbender, but that isn’t a criticism – it’s a deliberate choice. It adds a huge amount of weight to when she actually does stand up to Jobs and force him to act decently or reveal what he’s actually thinking.

The rest of the cast holds up well under the onslaught of Fassbender and Winslet, although their roles are more condensed. Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak is more there as a foil for Jobs than a character in his own right, as is as Michael Stuhlbarg as Mac co-creator Andy Hertzfeld.

Steve Jobs review

One of the more interesting portrayals comes from Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the former Apple CEO that will forever be remembered as the guy that fired Steve Jobs from Apple. As Jobs regained his power, Scully’s place in the public conscious was cemented for the worse as a villain. The film does an excellent job of creating a balance in the character and bringing him to life.

And that’s part of why the film is a success. Jobs is depicted with such depth that he isn’t the hero, but you can’t take your eyes off of him. It helps to explain the fascination and attraction people had with the real Jobs. He had a magnetic personality and people believed in him, even when they probably shouldn’t. The film captures that with elegance while still managing to tell the story of the rise and fall and rise again of Steve Jobs.

But despite the focus on the ambition of Jobs, the plot is held together by Jobs’s relationship with his estranged daughter Lisa, which was complicated, to say the least. It helps to cut through the myth of Jobs and goes to the heart of the man – for better and worse.

The portrayal of Jobs is brilliantly nuanced. He was a complicated man, and it is a complicated portrayal. You may watch the film and leave not sure how you should feel about him, and that’s fine. In fact, that’s brilliant.

Steve Jobs review conclusion

Steve Jobs review

Steve Jobs is not historically accurate, but it is somewhat true – or at least it feels true. Sorkin’s script compacts and condenses a lifetime of personality into a two hour movie. It may gloss over some parts and fictionalize others, but it captures the spirit of both the people and the times.

Given the scope of the film, it’s easy to forget that the entire thing is shot against just a handful of unremarkable backdrops, and yet it is still compelling throughout. It’s helped by a smart script and award-worthy performances.

Even if you hate Apple, even if you despise what it has become, Steve Jobs is one of the best films of the year.

Steve Jobs is rated R, with a running time of 2 hours 2 minutes.

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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.
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