Following a sharp and intimate opening act of verbal ferocity, Steve Jobs never lets up with its Aaron Sorkin-drenched sparring. Anything written by Sorkin naturally comes with its own intellectual flare, but whilst The Social Network contained a complex narrative of betrayal within its sharp edged exterior, Steve Jobs is remarkably thin on plot and relies on much prior investment into the iBrand without building stakes that seem to matter.
The film is divided into three acts, each depicting various confrontations between the Apple CEO and his family and colleagues in the moments leading up to three major product launches: the Apple Macintosh, the ‘NeXT computer’ (Jobs’s failed solo venture) and finally the 1998 launch of the now iconically designed iMac.
The intensity of the first act is maintained throughout, which creates a tonally and narratively odd film without an ounce of processing time. Danny Boyle hangs back from his usual directorial flourishes and instead lets the writing take the lead. Fassbender is wonderful as Jobs, emotionally vacant and unable to extend his creative brilliance into his human interactions. His profound dismissal of Steve Wozniak’s (Seth Rogen) efforts in developing the commercially successful Apple II is in itself potent and revealing, underling a callousness extended into his relationship with his daughter, whose paternity he spent so much time disputing. There isn’t much in the way of character development for Jobs between the film’s 14 years, which may well be accurate to the real man. However, there’s also not enough of a sense of those around him, not least with his child’s mother who remains an empty vessel despite her importance to the film’s emotional resonance. Even in a slightly hammy final scene in which he appears to “connect” a bit more with his daughter, he is still showing off his own ingenuity and power. Alongside the breakneck dialogue, which ranges from the brilliant to the obtuse, the lack of change or deeper insight into the inner turmoils of Jobs amounts to a film that hums along, initially attention-grabbing but ultimately meandering despite the strength of the performances. Kate Winslet plays Joanna, Jobs’s marketing executive and closest confidante, yet between them you get little sense of what their relationship means to each other.
Whether moral dilemmas such as the existence of an optional hard drive (which isn’t really optional) and the morally dubious act of demoing a 128k system at 512k (whatever that means) is enough to keep you permanently engaged then you probably have the sort of technical interest that the film requires. Behind the polished performances, Steve Jobs doesn’t feel like enough of a universal story for non Apple aficionados, nor is it enough of a story for Sorkin’s dominating script to not just sound clever, but mean very much.
Review by David Rank
Steve Jobs is out now in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 122 mins