Windows devotees will find much to appreciate in Steve Jobs – slick, stylish and ultimately devoid of much substance, it has much in common with Apple products as described by their fiercest critics.
Director Danny Boyle partners with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for this unusually structured biopic, which captures the Apple co-founder and his entourage in the minutes before three crucial product launches: the first Macintosh computer in 1984, the ill-fated NeXT in 1988 and finally the triumphant appearance of the iMac in 1998.
Michael Fassbender plays Jobs throughout, and his mannered, calculating take on the tech entrepreneur comes off as a better dressed version of Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, notably also scripted by Sorkin. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an array of big name actors in mostly underdeveloped roles, with Kate Winslet in particular let down by a thankless part as Jobs’ head of marketing. Mostly there to tell him off when he’s being more unpleasant than usual to his staff or family, she’s given plenty of screen time but no character growth to speak of.
Seth Rogen is more noteworthy in his turn as company co-founder Steve Wozniak, in a rare dramatic role. Like the rest of the supporting cast, he’s given little real development (he literally has the same argument with Jobs in 1998 as he does in 1984), but Fassbender and Rogen’s scenes together are the film’s best, barbs about the future of computers masking the breakdown of an important friendship.
The main emotional throughline concerns Jobs’ relationship with his estranged daughter Lisa. More developed than the rest of the film’s subplots, this still falls flat, with Fassbender unable to wring much warmth from Sorkin’s dialogue, or strike the note of melancholic disconnection that Eisenberg hit upon so effectively in The Social Network.
Boyle brings out his usual bag of whizz-bang directorial tricks, but there’s only so much you can do to add flair to a script structured around people talking in corridors about selling computers. Sorkin attempts to add scale to proceedings through his self-mythologizing take on Jobs, where every product is a tectonic shift-this or world-changing-that, but it’s not long before the hyperbole begins to ring hollow.
If you buy into the Apple hype, Steve Jobs might seem as grandiose as Sorkin’s Jobs sees his own products. If not, you’ll find a lot of big words without very much to say.
Words by Dominic Preston
Steve Jobs screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 18th October.