As a hardcore movie guy – someone who spends more hours awake in a darkened theater than asleep in a darkened bedroom (well, it feels that way sometimes) – it’s not often I suggest a property should have been sent to the boob tube rather than the big screen.
But in the case of Steve Jobs – or at least based on how it’s structured here – this project seems like an HBO miniseries waiting to happen. As it stands, this movie from the dream duo of director Danny Boyle (Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire) and writer Aaron Sorkin (Oscar for The Social Network) is consistently entertaining yet feels strangely incomplete.
Cannily structured like a three-act play (should we expect Jobs!: The Musical on Broadway by decade’s end?), it looks in on Apple cofounder Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) right before the launches of three defining innovations: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Box (aka The Cube) in 1988 and the iMac in 1998.
At each event, with the clock ticking down until the unveiling, he discusses his professional and personal concerns with his friend, associate and conscience Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), bickers with his former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) about money and about their daughter Lisa, and alternately assuages, antagonizes and alienates key Apple figures Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg).
The film’s insular settings prove to be Sorkin’s brightest idea but also the film’s biggest drawback. Jobs (who died of cancer in 2011, at the age of 56) is presented here as a tireless workaholic, a shrewd businessman and, chiefly, a grandstanding showman perpetually poised with the next pitch. The script’s emphasis on the three launches and how they ultimately all tie together is a logical approach, and, thanks to Sorkin’s typically zesty dialogue, it’s a treat examining and understanding the politics driving each character.
But the movie also reveals Jobs to be a largely unpleasant man, a Machiavellian figure with few loyalties, and the context isn’t expansive enough to paint a thorough picture.
Ultimately, Steve Jobs feels like the middle episodes of a six-part miniseries. With a 360-minute run time on the small screen, it would have been breathlessly hyped as a “Television Event”; at 122 minutes on the big screen, it’s still a noteworthy achievement, even if it only partly gets Jobs done.