It's impossible not to compare Steve Jobs with The Social Network. Both have scripts by Aaron Sorkin. Both are about key figures – and key moments – in Silicon Valley, the current driving force behind American culture. Both have stellar casts and hip directors. The similarities end right there. Yet Sorkin's reputation overrides everything else, since right now, aside from Charlie Kaufman, he is the only living screenwriter whose name alone can attract audiences. (I'm not including those writers who also direct.)
So let's get the comparisons out of the way: The Social Network remains the more relevant film, but Steve Jobs is a smart, enjoyable time at the movies.
Though based on Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography, Steve Jobs is more a fantasia on the Apple cofounder than a proper biopic. Highly theatrical in nature, reminiscent of Birdman (sans the "single take" gimmick), the film is divided into three acts, each unfolding backstage in the minutes before three of Steve Jobs's most important industry unveilings: the Macintosh in 1984, the doomed NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.
Even someone unfamiliar with Jobs can guess that he didn't actually have soul-searching discussions with the exact same four people – his former partner Steve Wozniak (an earnest Seth Rogen), his marketing director Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, likable), onetime Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and his illegitimate daughter Lisa – mere moments before his huge presentations. As such, we can divorce ourselves from guessing what did and didn't really happen, and just drink in Sorkin's take on this divisive, inscrutable figure.
Fassbender, for his part, may not look a thing like Jobs, but he still convinced me, thanks to the sheer excellence of his performance.
Danny Boyle's direction is solid, even if, on the surface, The Social Network's meticulous director David Fincher seems like a better fit for Steve Jobs, whereas the freewheeling Boyle could have been the right man for The Social Network. His humanistic approach to the material defrosts Jobs by bringing out the sentimentality in Sorkin's script, which, for better or worse, ultimately ignores the industry stuff and zeroes in on Jobs's relationship with Lisa. In short, this is another movie about daddy issues. How much you get into Steve Jobs depends on how tired you are of this trope.
By many accounts, the real Steve Jobs was an awful person. You may feel that Steve Jobs kind of lets him off the hook, and you may be right. But Sorkin's dialogue is so irresistible, and the cast so appealing, that the film succeeds as pure drama. In the end, I didn't feel like I knew the real Steve Jobs any more than I did going in. But a movie character named Steve Jobs is someone I got to know very well.