The rigid three-act structure could’ve felt confining. Each act is set at a key product launch. We don’t really see much of Jobs’ personal life—only what elements of it come to him at these launches. Act one is set in 1984 at the Macintosh launch. Act two is in 1988, during Jobs’ time away from Apple as head of NeXT. Finally, we arrive in 1998 at the beginning of Apple’s “modern” era—the period that marks introduction of Jobs’ greatest innovations. Back with the company he co-founded, the slim, turtle-necked CEO is launching the then-groundbreaking iMac. Instead of confining and claustrophobic, the workplace-only structure feels entirely appropriate for a portrait of the hyper-driven genius.
In a way, Boyle and Sorkin’s film feels like a visually-elaborate stage play. It’s not necessarily a realistic, strictly fact-based approach; there are documentaries about Jobs that fit that particular bill. Here we meet important people in Jobs’ life as they visit him during frantic final moments preceding these product launch events. There’s Joanna (Kate Winslet, disappearing into her Oscar-nominated role), Jobs’ marketing executive and friend. There’s Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan, nicely underplaying in a rare dramatic outing). Jeff Daniels is John Sculley, Apple CEO from ’83 to ’93. On a significantly more personal level, we’re introduced to Jobs’ ex Chrisann (Katherine Waterston) and their daughter Lisa (portrayed by a different actress of a different age, one at each product launch; Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine). Steve confounds Chrisann and Lisa by refusing to acknowledge her as his daughter.
Steve Jobs is carefully designed to show not only Jobs’ development as a home-based computing innovator, but also his maturation on an emotional level. Boyle’s approach is, in itself, quite innovative. In order to give each segment a special look to define its era, he had cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler shoot the ’84 segment on 16mm film, the ’88 on 35mm, and the ’98 on digital video. Of course each of the encounters Steve has with professional and personal associates didn’t occur in the manner in which we see them depicted. But Boyle uses the cinematic medium to give the impression that everything we need to know about the man can be gleaned from the context of his work environment. The genre of biopic is limiting in general, so staging the entirety of Jobs’ life within these confines is a daring conceit that pays off. The occasional flashback (to Jobs and Wozniak working out of a garage, for instance) and Boyle’s multi-layered, superimposed visuals are reminders that he and Sorkin know they aren’t presenting a literal “life story,” but rather an interpretation.
The aforementioned trio of shooting formats allows for Universal’s outstanding Blu-ray to display a variety of visual textures. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix neatly balances overlapping voices and Daniel Pemberton’s hypnotic score. As for special features on the Blu-ray combo pack (which includes DVD and Digital HD versions), there are two audio commentary tracks: one by director Boyle, the other by writer Sorkin and editor Elliot Graham. “Inside Jobs: The Making of Steve Jobs” is not your typical EPK fluff piece. Divided into three parts (totally about 45 minutes), this is an interesting look at the creation of the film that fans will want to watch.
Though it failed to ignite the box office upon its fall 2015 theatrical release, Steve Jobs is a bold biopic loaded with excellent performances and grounded by a fascinatingly complex lead role by Michael Fassbender. Don’t miss it.