Steve Jobs is a film that starts as it means to go on. In one of the first scenes, Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender) is involved in a heated argument with one of his subordinates. He is about to unveil the Macintosh, and he wants it to say “Hello” to the audience. Unfortunately, his programmers claim that this won’t be possible, due to a system error that has occurred at the very last minute. He demands that they fix the problem, insisting the whole presentation is about to ruined, but his people are adamant that they don’t have enough time.
“We’re not a pit crew at Daytona,” protests programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), explaining that the error cannot be fixed in seconds. “You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time,” replies Jobs, a man who isn’t interested in excuses. “Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it,” retorts Hertzfeld, like a professional tennis player who has just returned a powerful serve from his opponent.
Written by award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is littered with witty lines and snappy, rapid-fire dialogue. It could be described as two hours of dramatic talking, or as 120 minutes of smart people having arguments. Every character is quick-witted and hyper-articulate, so much so that the film makes you wish you had a better vocabulary. Real people don’t talk like this, of course, but Sorkin’s verbal ping-pong is highly enjoyable to watch.
Aside from the dialogue, Sorkin also deserves credit for the way he structures the film, which is split into three separate acts. Instead of depicting every significant moment in Jobs’s life, he focuses on three events: the launch of the Mac in 1984, the launch of the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the unveiling of the iMac in 1998.
Each act takes place backstage, unfolding in real time, as Jobs gets ready to present these products to an audience. We don’t see the actual presentations, just the drama that occurs in the 40-odd minutes leading up to them. In all three sections, Jobs has to deal with various problems – malfunctioning software, inadequate lighting – while being confronted by an assortment of friends, colleagues and advisers.
Importantly, all of this is far more engaging that it might sound. Steve Jobs is a talky film, but director Danny Boyle infuses it with plenty of energy and urgency. For the most part, he keeps everything moving forward, and he does so in a way that isn’t flashy or showy, ensuring that nothing overshadows the dialogue or performances.
Which brings us to Michael Fassbender, who is simply superb in the lead role. He might not look like Steve Jobs, but Fassbender offers a compelling performance, portraying the Apple icon as a demanding, ambitious, single-minded perfectionist. Kate Winslet, meanwhile, provides solid support as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s exasperated, long-suffering confidant. Winslet’s Polish accent comes and goes (mostly it goes), but she strikes up a nice rapport with Fassbender. “What’s your problem?” enquires Jobs during one scene. “I don’t know,” replies Joanna. “But I’m sure it can be traced back to you.”
Still, the film’s key relationship is the one that blossoms between Jobs and his daughter, Lisa. In the first act, Jobs furiously denies that he is Lisa’s father, but over the course of the film, the two characters share some lovely moments. On the surface, Steve Jobs is an unconventional biopic about a flawed genius. At heart, however, it is touching story about a father and his daughter.
Admittedly, Jobs’s personal conflicts start to feel slightly repetitive by the third act. In addition, the film is designed in such a way that it can’t help but feel contrived, given that the same group of people confront Jobs before every presentation. Crucially, though, these are minor complaints in a film that is smart, funny, likeable and entertaining. It is, quite simply, a thoroughly enjoyable piece of work.
Steve Jobs is released in cinemas on Friday 13 November