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Steve Jobs reviews: What did the critics say?

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Think different. That was the slogan for one of Apple’s most successful ad campaigns. And it’s one that Aaron Sorkin apparently took to heart when he sat down to adapt Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of Steve Jobs. Rather than follow the conventional blueprint of the Great Man biopic, the Oscar-winning screenwriter (The Social Network) eschewed huge portions of Jobs’ history and built a narrative that views his life through the prism of three monumental product launches, set in 1984, 1988, and 1998. 

At one point, David Fincher was poised to reunite with Sorkin and direct, but when he dropped out, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) stepped up and embraced the concept. “For the most part, this structure works,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty, in his B review. “Each chapter symbolizes a critical crossroads in Jobs’ career. And Boyle, who’s always been one of our most playful visual stylists, shoots each section using different film stocks (16mm, 35mm, and digital) to subliminally reboot the audience’s expectations. Every section crackles with exquisite rat-a-tat dialogue (Sorkin has no peer in this regard, with the possible exception of Preston Sturges 70 years ago)…”

Mastering that rat-a-tat is Michael Fassbender, who stepped into the giant role only after Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale backed away — reportedly under pressure from Jobs’ partisans — but he makes the producers look smart. He volleys and tangles with Kate Winslet, who plays his right-hand, Joanna Hoffman; Seth Rogen, the brilliant mensch Steve Wozniak; Jeff Daniels, his mentor and rival John Scully; and Michael Stuhlbarg, one of Jobs’ most essential whipping boys, Andy Herzfeld. Fassbender never leaves the frame, and Winslet has described his acting challenge as “Hamlet times two.” The Shakepearean reference is apt, not because Sorkin is the Bard, but because he presents the Great Man as a King Lear of Silicon Valley. Everybody wants something from him, and they inconveniently choose the moments before his next product launch to confront him. 

Apple and some Jobs loyalists — especially his wife, Laurene — have expressed their disapproval of the film. (Jobs’ widow recently called it “fiction.”) The filmmakers concede that they’ve stretched the facts to get at some greater truth. Fassbender clarifies that it’s a “dramatization, it’s not a biopic,” and Wozniak — who advised on the film — told Bloomberg News, “Maybe everything in the movie didn’t happen, but they’re all based on things that did happen.”

For more of Nashawaty’s review and verdict of other critics from around the country, scroll below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“I happen to be one of those folks who think there’s nothing easier on the ear than a florid Sorkin walk-and-talk with its metaphorical arias and smartypants speeches. But it works better on a sitcom than in a biopic that has some responsibility of capturing reality. Maybe that’s why as sharp and slick as Steve Jobs is, it ends up feeling more interested in entertainment than enlightenment.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

“Steve Jobs is a chamber play, a character study, an ensemble juggling act, and a meditation on the uses and abuses of charisma. Mostly, it’s a shining example of the unbearable Aaron Sorkin-ness of being. What it’s not about, as far as I can tell, is any actual person named Steve Jobs. Does this matter? Should it matter? Not during the crackling 122 minutes of the movie itself, but afterward, probably. Almost all of what happens or is said in Steve Jobs didn’t actually happen or get said…”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) ▲

Steve Jobs creates an impressionistic inner portrait, a Shakespearean character study in three tautly constructed acts in which Jobs’s contradictions, demons and most searing primal wounds are revealed in constantly peeling layers. Unburdened by the distraction of spot-on impersonation and conventional Great Man milestones, Fassbender and his fascinating, often off-putting character steer clear of the dreaded biopic shallows to explore murkier psychological depths.”

Anthony Lane (New Yorker)

“What Sorkin and Boyle have to offer is not a warts-and-all portrait but the suggestion that there is something heroic about a wart. As a result, despite the lunging modernity of the products on display, Steve Jobs comes across as strangely old-fashioned in this romantic insistence on its hero.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times) ▲

Steve Jobs is a rich and potent document of the times, an expression of both the awe that attends sophisticated new consumer goods and the unease that trails in the wake of their arrival. … Mostly, though, it is a formally audacious, intellectually energized entertainment, a powerful challenge to the lazy conventions of Hollywood storytelling and a feast for connoisseurs of contemporary screen acting.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“Little of this happened in the exact way it does onscreen, but it’s generally accurate and performed at such a rollicking tempo that as you watch you hardly care. The camera trails the characters in the manner of Birdman, and director Danny Boyle keeps the traffic flowing expertly. Boyle doesn’t bring his own point of view — the way David Fincher chilled down and distanced Sorkin’s script for The Social Network — but you can’t fault his palette. He’s the deftest superficial director alive.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

“It’s interesting to imagine what Fincher, with his eagle eye for vanity and other human follies, might have made of Sorkin’s genially misanthropic script. As it is, Steve Jobs feels like a sharply written, flamboyantly over-directed, meticulously acted, probably inaccurate, and necessarily incomplete portrait of the enigmatic black-clad man whose vision of the future helped create the 21st century as we know it.”

Justin Chang (Variety) ▲

“Blowing away traditional storytelling conventions with the same withering contempt that seems to motivate its characters’ every interaction, Steve Jobs is a bravura backstage farce, a wildly creative fantasia in three acts in which every scene plays out as a real-time volley of insults and ideas — insisting, with sometimes gratingly repetitive sound and fury, that Jobs’ gift for innovation was perhaps inextricable from his capacity for cruelty.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) ▲

“Along with intellectual brilliance and force of personality, [Fassbender] also taps into the man’s frequently unreachability, power to inspire, unswerving faith in his own instincts, attention to the smallest detail, utter lack of sentimentality and the certitude that can come from occupying a different, loftier realm. Most of all, you get the strong sense from Fassbender of a mind that is always several steps beyond everyone else’s, one that allows him to shift gears without taking a breath.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Some of the best scenes take place between Jobs and Wozniak, who are more like McCartney and Lennon than they realize, with each possessing necessary qualities that the other lacks, and each both resenting and loving the other guy for it. Rogen conveys a sweetness of nature and a forgiving awareness of Jobs’ strengths and weaknesses, while Fassbender looks at him as though he were some piece of ungainly but essential equipment best kept under a drape.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“The father-daughter relationship is the emotional center of Steve Jobs, and it’s a dud, as formulaic and out of place as the romantic subplots in the first season of The Newsroom. … Steve Jobs fares much better when it focuses on the work, because this is a case in which the work defined the man. The movie argues that a big part of Jobs’ genius was his sense of showmanship, and that his enormous ego was both hindrance and boon: He simply refused to be wrong, even when he was.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 81

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Rated: R

Length: 122 minutes

Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg

Directed by Danny Boyle

Distributor: Universal

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