'Steve Jobs' review: Great script, performances create impressionistic portrait
The Academy might as well just hand screenwriter Aaron Sorkin the 'Best Adapted Screenplay' award right now. "Steve Jobs" (opening in select cities Oct. 16) is an intricate, character-driven master work of human drama.
In short: Set during the backstage drama of three major product launch events, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) clashes with several key people in his personal and professional life, including his estranged daughter Lisa, his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his mentor figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and his trusted head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). Katherine Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg co-star. (Watch the trailer)
Essentially "Steve Jobs" could be summed up as Jobs having conversations with "Woz," Sculley, Hoffman and Lisa on three momentous days that span across two decades. But of course a brilliant Steve Jobs film would use his iconic announcement events to form the film's framework. The relative simplicity of this film's structure allows the complex and shifting web of Jobs' relationships to take center stage -- shifting focus to the escalating professional and personal stakes for Jobs as a visionary, leader, myth and as a father
Fassbender makes his claim for Best Actor consideration with a turn that is not simply an impersonation of Steve Jobs - this is a fully-realized performance of a multi-faceted and fascinating character. This is a visionary and perfectionist who pushes forward with a nearly self-destructive hubris, leaving his allies, colleagues and family to deal with his wake. He is blunt, patronizing, contentious, ruthless, audacious, Machiavellian and demanding -- and it's exactly these duel-sided character strengths and flaws that drive this film. Fassbender presents Jobs is a force of nature that refuses to be stopped or even reasoned with.
Fassbender is backed-up by a strong supporting cast. "Newsroom" star Daniels has mastered the Sorkin cadence - his John Sculley is equal parts proud father-figure/mentor as much as he is an astute CEO often at business odds with Jobs' vision. Winslet holds her own against the titular character playing his loyal marketing head who lends an empathetic ear or stands up to the boisterous genius. Every character challenges some facet of Jobs, bringing him in direct conflict with those who object to combative personality.
"Steve Jobs" is, for better or worse, obviously overdramatized for the big screen. The film feels like a theatrical play presented in three acts on an intimate stage -- but it doesn't feel very organic. Each act tortuously contorts itself to find ways to force Jobs to interact with Lisa, Sculley, Woz, Lisa and Macintosh designer Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg). There's an obvious checklist of requisite plot points each act touches upon -- emblematic of storytelling slavishly devoted to historical events rather than letting characters truly drive the narrative structure. But the brilliant character interplay of Sorkin's clever screenplay and several strong performances inject more than enough kinetic energy into "Steve Jobs" to keep the movie from sinking beneath the weight of its rigid structure.
Final verdict: Great directing, a superb lead performance and a razor-sharp script make "Steve Jobs" one of the must-see films of 2015.
"Steve Jobs" is rated R for language. This biographical drama opens in select cities Oct. 16.