The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:



The Apple of His Eye

Universal Pictures
 122 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Danny Boyle 
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Steve Jobs

Anyone watching Steve Jobs, the movie in current release, can be forgiven for assuming that it was based on a stage play rather than the best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson. For what director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have done is to structure the film in three acts, each depicting the launch of a product that was key to Jobs’s career. More than that, the three “acts” are essentially variations on a theme, as Jobs interacts with the same key figures in his life over many of the same issues with each succeeding act providing a little more detail into what made Jobs tick and how and why he had the effect he did on those around them. The end effect, especially considering the wealth of clever Sorkin dialogue, is something nearly Shakespearean.


The three product launches were the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 (produced by the company Jobs founded after he left Apple), and the iMac in 1998. Jobs, as brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender, certainly appears to age physically from scene to scene, as do his co-stars (including his daughter Lisa, who is played by three different actresses), but we get the impression that the man himself has not changed. He’s the man who was simultaneously the most admired businessman in America and often reviled by friends and employees.


The public face of Jobs is easy to understand. He was a man who could figure out what the public wanted in terms of technology and gave it to them, designing computers and devices for people, not engineers. It’s a basic marketing concept but one that had yet to find traction in the computer industry dominated by ultraconservative IBM on the one end and a handful of toy manufacturers on the other. Apple under Jobs made real computers that were fun for the masses to use. And Jobs also knew that when faced with a specific engineering challenge, his team could handle it.


Ironically, the huckster entrepreneur aspect of Jobs’s personality is not on display much in Steve Jobs. Each act covers the leadup to Jobs’s introduction but not his actual speech extolling his products. So, we see Fassbender fielding questions from journalists and giving pep talks to underlings but not the man the public saw. In this regard, as in many other regards, screenwriter Sorkin relies on viewers’ familiarity with Jobs in general. It’s much the same tactic Tony Kushner used in Lincoln. He assumed a general familiarity with Lincoln and the Civil War and then focused on one key period in Lincoln’s life. Unfortunately, Steve Jobs’s life story is more dependent on tech speak about subjects like open and closed architecture, making it a bit more difficult to follow.


What viewers can easily follow is the relationship between Jobs and those closest to him, who essentially became stand-ins for his own family. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) co-founded Apple and was the technical genius behind its early success, but Jobs wouldn’t give him and his Apple II team full credit for their role in that success, even as Jobs ensured that Wozniak, much like a younger brother, was taken care of financially. John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) was a mentor and father figure to Jobs, one Jobs brought in for his marketing and business expertise, but turned on when he couldn’t get his way in regard to business decisions involving the Macintosh. And Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) became Jobs’s work wife, the only one who would stand up to him, especially when it came to the members of his real family.


The biggest mystery in the film is Jobs’s strained relationship with his daughter. He cared for her enough to name his first original computer after her, but then went on record questioning his possible paternity after running an algorithm that, in his mind, showed that over 28% of American men actually could have been Lisa’s father. It’s a testament to Fassbender’s nuanced portrayal that he can make statements like that seem move the product of cluelessness than cruelty.


In addition to Jobs’s refusal to fully acknowledge his own daughter or business partner, Steve Jobs shows other flaws in the man’s character as well. He was obsessive, insisting that the design for his NeXT console be modified because it was a fraction of an inch off from being a perfect cube. And he would stick to his guns, about pricing and other business decisions, even though it eventually cost him his place at Apple in the 1980’s. Although sometimes wrong, Jobs shows the ability to think many moves ahead, as when his associates realize that the overpriced NeXT computer, destined to be an overpriced failure in the classroom marketplace for which it was designed, actually has an operating system that future generations of Macintosh will need. Thus, Jobs opened the door for Apple to buy his company and bring him back on board.


Steve Jobs is powered by Aaron Sorkin dialogue, which begs to be spoken by intelligent people, and the movie is chock full of intelligent people. At one point, Wozniak tells Jobs, “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” And, in the film’s most memorable line, Jobs describes the secret of his success, “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.”


For two hours, Michael Fassbender plays the orchestra, catching Jobs’s ever changing moods, while being matched by a career performance from Rogen and equally solid ones from Daniels and Winslet. Director Boyle wisely stays out of the way of his actors, avoiding obvious gimmicks but instead, moving the camera as unobtrusively as possible as the action, usually running dialogues, goes from one backstage area to another as Jobs gets ready for each presentation. It’s only after the fact that audiences realize the techniques Boyle has employed, such as shooting the movie on three different media, a grainy 16mm, a standard 35mm, and digital, capturing the change in technology over the years.


Steve Jobs was often a cold person, and Steve Jobs is often a cold movie. There’s no Rosebud moment late in the film in which he realizes the error of his ways, even though the script gives him ample opportunity to do so. Actually, the only hint at a reconciliation between Jobs and Lisa comes off as somewhat forced. Some have criticized the movie for its historical inaccuracies, which misses the point. Steve Jobs was never intended as a biography. Much as Shakespeare did in his histories, Aaron Sorkin has subtly manipulated Jobs’s life story for dramatic effect, and it works. Accurate or not, Steve Jobs paints a vivid portrait, if not of the real entrepreneur, than of Sorkin’s even more compelling version of him

Read other reviews of  Steve Jobs:


Steve Jobs (2015) on IMDb