It says a lot that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin can hold your attention to a picture consisting solely of conversation. Yes, Sorkin and David Fincher did the same thing in The Social Network, but there, the characters were developing before your very eyes, and things were happening – a revolutionary product was being developed, friendships and rivalries were being established, complaints were being lodged, people were being screwed, and litigation was ongoing. Here, we meet Steve Jobs pretty much fully formed, at the peak of his first rise, as he launches the product that will result in his first fall, and he has already established the defining templates and themes for most of his relationships. He converses with his early collaborator and colleague (a surprisingly forceful Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak), another colleague (Michael Stuhlbarg), his loyal lieutenant (Kate Winslet) his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child (Katherine Waterston), his CEO (Jeff Daniels) and his daughter (various actresses). With the exception of a few short flashbacks, we repeat these conversations at different points in Jobs’ life, and while the effect is pronounced with regard to the relationship between Jobs and his daughter, the rest is pretty much the same conversation (certainly, with Wozniak, Waterston and Winslet), and it takes all of the gifts Boyle and Sorkin can muster to maintain interest. That’s said, mine was maintained, and as Jobs, a man so driven and disconnected that he can freely renounce his paternity of a little girl to her face, Fassbender is in total control. There is a wonderfully written scene with Jobs and longtime friend and co-worker Stuhlbarg that demonstrates the wit of Sorkin while exhibiting the unique remove and iciness of Jobs. Jobs says “I don’t want people to dislike me. I’m indifferent to whether they dislike me”, Stuhlbarg tells Jobs he’s always disliked him, and Jobs responds “Really? I’ve always liked you a lot. That’s too bad.”
As with The Social Network, Sorkin has also shorn his dialogue of the cutesy, easy patter that often plagues his work (I counted one Sorkinism – where Fassbender smarmily asks Winslet why they haven’t slept together – and that was it). The film clicks and moves, but it does not pause to celebrate its own cleverness. Still, there is not a lot of meat on this bone. I didn’t learn a great deal more about Jobs from conversation to conversation, nor was I made privy to his genius, unless that genius is solely derived from drive and calculation.