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Review: Steve Jobs offers more Hollywood fiction than fact

Ken Gagne | Oct. 20, 2015
The new film, which opens nationwide later this week, has its flaws, but is still fun

steve jobs memorial

Four years after his death, Steve Jobs is passing from legend into myth. Some recountings of his life try to set the record straight, including last month's documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. Others flirt with creative retellings of the facts, as did the 2013 film Jobs.

Now there's Steve Jobs, which throws adherence to the truth out the window — but with an all-star cast helmed by Michael Fassbender, a script by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing that's based on Walter Isaacson's biography, and direction by Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire, it succeeds in being the most entertaining interpretations of Jobs to date. The film opened to limited release earlier this month, and opens nationwide on Friday.

The film is divided across three forty-minute scenes, each immediately before Jobs takes the stage for a product announcement: the arrival of the original Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. Each scene also features flashbacks, such as to the garage where Apple was supposedly founded in 1976. Broad swaths of potential character development, such as Jobs' early years at Atari and in India, or his later years battling cancer, are ignored, letting these three scenes serve as the main stages for in-depth character analysis.

Across these periods is a consistent cast that includes Apple co-founder Steve "Woz" Wozniak; former Apple CEO John Sculley; Macintosh developer Andy Hertzfeld; marketing executive Joanna Hoffman; former lover Chrisann Brennan; and Jobs' and Brennan's daughter, Lisa. Given how predominantly male Apple has been and still is, I appreciated this more balanced cast — especially Hoffman, an unsung hero who stood up to Jobs for decades. Kate Winslet is brilliant in this role, playing a strong, insightful, moral, and empathetic character whose Polish accent lends her portrayal authenticity. Likewise, Michael Stuhlbarg shows us an Andy Hertzfeld whose book smarts hide a heart of gold.

This verisimilitude cannot be said of the other actors. Although it was challenging to imagine Kelso from That Seventies Show as Steve Jobs, Ashton Kutcher nailed the icon's speech patterns and physical idiosyncrasies in Jobs. Michael Fassbender, by contrast, doesn't look or act the part, any more than Seth Rogen does in portraying Wozniak as outspoken, confrontational, and resentful. Woz and Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels, who's also in The Martian) both vociferously shove Jobs' failures in his face, emphasizing that NeXT will fail and that, no thanks to Jobs, the Apple II was Apple's biggest (and often only) success for nearly 20 years. (In the garage scene, when Jobs demands that the Apple II have no expansion slots, closing it off to the world, Woz responds: "Computers aren't supposed to have human flaws. I'm not going to build this one with yours." Ouch.) As a modern-day Apple II user, I was glad to hear this version of history represented: while Jobs was indeed a genius, and Apple would not have existed without him, the idea that everything he touched turned to gold is pure myth.


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