"THE VERY NATURE of people is something to be overcome," Steve Jobs says in Steve Jobs. Well, not the real Steve Jobs—this Steve Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender, doing his best to rock Jobs' black turtlenecks and dad jeans while being an asshole to everyone he meets.
Yet, more than anything—more than Apple computers, more than iPhones, more than how history actually played out—Steve Jobs is concerned with human nature. Jobs' nature, most notably, but also the lives and needs and sadnesses of those in his orbit: There's Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Jobs' marketing expert; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple's one-time CEO; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of the developers of the Macintosh; and Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the genius behind the Apple I and the Apple II. In Steve Jobs, all those accomplishments are secondary to the fact that these people are verbal and emotional punching bags for Jobs, who churns through them with sociopathic coldness. At one point, Sculley gives Jobs some advice: "Don't play stupid. You can't pull it off." To his credit, Jobs never seems stupid; to his discredit, he does seem vindictive, petty, and desperate to make his mark on the world.
In the four years since Jobs' death, there've been a slew of attendant biographies, biopics, and documentaries. None have been as good at capturing Jobs' accomplishments, failures, and contradictions as Walter Isaacson's book Steve Jobs, which this Steve Jobs is based on. A lesser film might have gone full biopic, with all the bloat and sentiment inherent to that genre, but here, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin does audiences the favor of cutting out the bullshit. What remains is a story told in a few key sequences, each set in the moments preceding the launch of a new product: the Macintosh, the NeXT Computer, the iMac. As Sorkin writes it, just about every important conversation Jobs ever had took place in the frantic seconds leading up to these launches, when friends, family, and enemies would swarm, all sharing some phenomenal dialogue with Jobs before he went onstage. (If you guessed there's a lot of West Wing-style walking and talking through backstage hallways, CORRECT.) Sorkin's script means some big stuff gets cut—some of Jobs' family members get plenty of screentime, while it's as if others never existed, and there's never any mention of issues like Apple's increasingly indefensible reliance on Chinese tech factories. What is here spans 14 years, and as each sequence begins, it's both comforting and jolting to see how Jobs has aged, how Hoffman has grown more canny, how Wozniak has... well, Woz stays pretty much the same.
The clever structure and blistering pace of Sorkin's script snap right in line with the style of Danny Boyle—no other director, one suspects, could make corporate bickering and stats about CPUs feel like movements in a hyper-kinetic opera. While it spins and thrums with energy, Boyle's direction here is more subtle than it might appear—but he also just unleashes in a couple of sequences, where the editing and momentum are fantastically entertaining. Combine those bits with the level of performances here—Winslet is particularly great, but just about everyone in these complex roles is excellent—and Steve Jobs basically spends its runtime leaping from high point to high point.
Which makes it a bummer that the movie ends on a note that feels hollow and simple—and antithetical to the smart, unsentimental film that preceded it. When a supposedly happy ending comes out of nowhere, it's an obvious attempt to achieve a sense of redemption and closure. It might be human nature to desire stories that have clean, uplifting conclusions, but with Steve Jobs, it's hard not to wish that desire had been overcome.