It seemed that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had barely been put to rest before Hollywood turned their attention toward him. Off the back of heated discussions about Jobs’ legacy, as well as the enormous success of Walter Isaacson’s acclaimed biography, a number of films on Jobs went into production almost immediately. However, none have the credentials or the audacity of ‘Steve Jobs’, director Danny Boyle’s unconventional look at the tech genius. With a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin as its foundation and a phenomenal cast, it’s hard not to await upon the film without a certain degree of anticipation.
Working against the traditional conventions of the biopic, ‘Steve Jobs’ focuses purely on three important product launches over the course of Jobs’ (Michael Fassbender) career - the Mac in 1984, the NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. In each "act", we see Jobs collide mercilessly with those closest to him, including his dedicated head-of-marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), marginalised co-creator of the Macintosh Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) and his boss John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Most importantly though, it also charts his relationship with Lisa, a young girl who he refuses to acknowledge as his daughter. Using these three launches as their signposts, ‘Steve Jobs’ uses these relationships to explore a man as he changes the face of technology whilst also thinking of himself as a kind of god.
The comparisons to Sorkin’s Oscar-winning screenplay for ‘The Social Network’ are inevitable, with both films dramatising two important figures who shaped modern technology and human interaction. However, while ‘The Social Network’ was razor-sharp and acidic, ‘Steve Jobs’ possesses a tad more heart. Amidst the political manoeuvrings at Apple that see Jobs proclaimed, damned and then reborn, the film at its essence boils down to a man who is both impossible to love but equally impossible to hate. Both Sorkin and Boyle show tremendous respect for their subject, but that doesn’t mean shying away from his unlikeable qualities. Jobs is abrasive, dismissive, arrogant and self-congratulatory to a fault, so it's no small miracle that the film still makes him a thoroughly captivating protagonist. The parameters Sorkin sets himself in the screenplay are enormous, but he rarely deviates from them, sticking to the three-launch structure with little compromise. Each of the launches (and the products they promote) connect directly with something in Jobs’ soul, so their very presence onscreen becomes a visual metaphor for the internal psychology of the man. While we still get Sorkin’s outstanding whip-cracking dialogue, the ingenious structure also means that the audience is able to get a few steps ahead. The first act is thrilling, but the second suffers from its similarity. Thankfully, that familiarity with the form allows you to settle into the third act and its emotionally satisfying conclusion. The screenplay also suffers from the peculiar brand of sentimentality that killed his series ‘The Newsroom’, meaning it doesn’t have quite the bite ‘The Social Network’ had.
There’s not much to fault with the filmmaking though. David Fincher was originally slated to direct the film, but Danny Boyle is a much better fit, his idiosyncratic flourishes and bombast much more in line with the tone of his protagonist. Sorkin’s screenplay could almost be a work of theatre, but Boyle elevates it to a cinematic experience, using visual and aural storytelling tools to expand the imaginative world of the film beyond its enclosed walls. Everything about the craft in ‘Steve Jobs’ is wonderfully playful, from the clever editing by Elliot Graham, cinematography by Alwin H. Kütcher that’s as slick and shiny as an Apple product, and Daniel Pemberton’s flat-out fantastic score that mixes electronics with obnoxious classical. Danny Boyle has always been a supremely intelligent entertainer, and while the world of technology and marketing might seem a strange environment for this rabble-rousing director, he finds any opportunity in the film to concoct his unique brand of cinematic anarchy.
Also faultless are the cast. Fassbender is as superb as you would expect him to be as Steve Jobs, his arresting screen presence a perfect fit for this monolithic man. He attacks Jobs’ abrasive attitude with relish, but always with the intelligence to balance that with the paranoia and fear bubbling away underneath. It also seems ridiculous to expect that Kate Winslet would be anything other than perfection, and her performance in this film, so heartfelt and fire-breathing, just proves once again that she is one of the finest actors in the world. Without Hoffman, Jobs’ energy would become unmanageable, and Winslet offers this same balance for the explosive nature of Fassbender’s performance. There’s also uniformly fantastic work from Rogan, Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook and Katherine Waterston, but tremendous credit must go to the three Lisas - Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine - all of whom steal their scenes in their respective acts.
Sorkin’s screenplay could almost be a work of theatre, but Boyle elevates it to a cinematic experience.
‘Steve Jobs’ is as enormous a film as you would expect it to be when tacking such a titanic and controversial figure. While it doesn’t possess the elemental fury of his work on ‘The Social Network’, Sorkin’s screenplay is still an absolute delight, elevated by Danny Boyle’s direction and the superb cast. ‘Steve Jobs’ is the perfect kind of biopic, one that takes risks in depicting its subject, honouring them while refusing to set them up as a saint, and one that actually justifies why its subject is worthy of dramatisation in the first place. You walk away knowing not just why this man is important, but also that he was just a man, as brimming with hubris as a figure from Shakespeare or the Ancient Greeks. For all its faults, I found ‘Steve Jobs’ an exhilarating experience, both theatrical and cinematic, fascinating and infuriating, entertaining and affecting. It’s a puzzle of a film I can’t wait to dive into again.