It’s not a binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.
Steve Jobs didn’t go anywhere at the box office in 2015. Perhaps because there’d been too many other bios/documentaries coming out about the subject matter in recent years. Perhaps it was also hurt by the rumored campaign, Jobs’ widow and Apple computer waged war against the film. Whatever the reason, not a whole lot of people went to see it which is a real shame because Steve Jobs with a razor sharp script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) and an all-star cast is a really good movie that examines the question of whether a great man can be a good one.
Instead of covering the main bases of the Steve Jobs autobiography – time in India, the garage, etc. that have already become the basis of Silicon Valley legend – Sorkin structures the movie like a three act play set (with an occasional flashback). The focus is on three pivotal product launches at Apple: the Macintosh in 1984; the NeXT in 1988; and, the iMac in 1998, with the same pivotal cast of characters coming to Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) with various demands.
Jobs’ old pal and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen in some of his best work) is constantly aggravated with Jobs for refusing to publicly share credit with the Apple II team. Joanna Hoffman (the always excellent Kate Winslet) is the marketing executive and Steve’s closest confidante. John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) is the Apple CEO and quasi father figure who later gains the dubious distinction of being the guy to oust Jobs out of Apple. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the much beleaguered computer programmer Andy Hertzfeld. Finally there’s Katherine Waterston as the volatile Crissan Brennan, Jobs’ former flame and mother of his first-born child, Lisa (played by three different actresses at different ages Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine), whom Jobs initially refused to acknowledge even after a positive paternity test.
Those surrounding Steve are frequently furious with him, but inevitably attracted to him as well. And no wonder. Michael Fassbender in the title role doesn’t look a damn thing like Jobs, but he embodies the man’s electricity. Sorkin writes Jobs as a manic-obsessive, casually cruel, condescending, aggravating, but also a truly brilliant, charismatic individual, whose mind-set helped revolutionize the world we live in. Fassbender’s ability to balance all those qualities into a convincing and compelling portrait is the stuff that Oscar nominations are made of.
Steve is a guy who demands impossible things from his subordinates. He’s the guy that will make you go searching for a double breasted, white shirt with a pocket 20 minutes before he’s set to appear on stage. The guy who wants a full black-out of the auditorium even if it’s against fire regulations, reasoning that if a fire does cause a stampede to the exits it will be well worth it for those who survive. But of all Steve’s questionable actions throughout the film his rejection of his own daughter is by far the most gut-wrenching and the most damning. Unlike his other sins, it can’t be written off as ultimately serving any greater purpose. Yet during the MacIntosh launch comes a moment when Lisa and Steve bond over the former’s intuitive grasp of how to use the Mac. In the end, the father-daughter connection is what gives this slick, stylized, film a beating heart.