Was Apple’s founder and figurehead Steve Jobs a master strategist? A tech visionary? A bullying boss? A douchebag ex? A deadbeat dad? Steve Jobs, the film, argues all of the above about Steve Jobs, the man. Framed in three real-time-ish parts, the story takes us behind the scenes of three product launch events (in 1984, 1988, and 1998) as Jobs prepares backstage, minutes before the lights go down while the capacity audiences collectively lose their shit in excitement (as techies often do over new toys).
Jobs fully admits that, like a conductor in an orchestra, the musicians play their instruments, but he, in turn, takes all the credit for playing the musicians. It’s painful to watch his oldest work partner Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Seth Rogen) repeatedly beg, over the years, for Jobs to give just a tiny bit of credit to the workhorses that kept Apple afloat with their early successes. Jobs, however, insists on only looking forward. He is constantly the magician, pulling back the cloth to reveal “his” latest creation to wow the foot-stomping capacity audience. Even when he fails, his failures seems completely calculated (witness his bomb of a company NeXT, which he cunningly planned as his way back into Apple). Meanwhile, he yells at, humiliates, and terrorizes the people in his life, whether his colleagues, his minions, or his ex-partner and their child, Lisa.
Kate Winslet (whose wobbly Polish-America accent doesn’t steady until the second half) attempts to ground the hothead Jobs as his right-hand colleague Joanna Hoffman. Seth Rogen brings surprising warmth and more than a bit of much-needed humanity as Jobs’ oldest friend and collaborator Woz. And if you are doubting that Jobs the man was more than a bit of a prick, you never doubt that Jobs the movie character is a frightening dictator as played by blistering Michael Fassbender.
But did I like it? Honestly, despite the fine acting, the film felt like being beaten over the head by a relentless bully for two hours. With the passing of years, I’m guessing we are supposed to be crossing our fingers that Jobs becomes a nicer guy. Instead, there really is nothing to signify that he was anything but an intolerable, arrogant tyrant. Maybe if the film went on for another hour to the iPad launch (aka Steve’s cancer-era) a kinder, gentler Steve would appear. But honestly, I wouldn’t have enough patience to hang out with the guy any longer to find out.
There is a three-part making of documentary (with each segment around 15 minutes), “Inside Jobs: The Making of Steve Jobs“, which goes into the acting, the real characters, Boyle’s directing style, the music, and more. If you want more, there are two feature length commentaries: one with director Danny Boyle, who is always insightful, and the other with writer Aaron Sorkin and editor Eliot Graham.