Writers, filmmakers and storytellers of other kinds have long been interested in the man who was Steve Jobs, as a person as well as a professional. Danny Boyle’s eponymous feature, penned by the formidable Aaron Sorkin, is not the first to put the late Apple CEO under the spotlight but this is not a tribute, nor is it really a biopic.
In typical Sorkinese fashion, the opening scene propels itself into fast-moving, intense dialogue with Jobs (Michael Fassbender) as the centre to which all other players gravitate. Moments away from presenting a new Mac computer to a vast audience, Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is struggling to get the machine to say ‘Hello’ and Jobs apparently is having none of this. In a departure from the usual cinematic style, there’s no build up to problems, it just crash-lands the viewer in one. This is a thread that Boyle’s Steve Jobs follows throughout, leaping from one pivotal product launch to the next, heaving with crowds whipped into frenzies of an almost religious degree.
This introduction is deliberately telling of Jobs’s character – a perfectionist and artist of the tech world, he stresses over small details that he views as significant and resolutely stands by his way of doing things even in the face of upset or outcry of those who are steamrolled in the process. He is portrayed as a genius but also flawed. That same stubbornness and ruthlessness that makes him a revered success also briefly crushes him – as we see him fired from Apple – and side-rails his sense of paternal duty, or at the very least his sense of being a touch more mellow to the kid that thinks he is her father (which is more than likely true).
The lows of his personal life provide a necessary offset to what would otherwise be a straight up appreciation show. Apart from his relationship with ‘work wife’ and head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) – seemingly his only real constant – family and friend disputes seem to be a regular occurrence. Jobs comes off as the rockstar, but others – co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) or CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels) for example – on the whole come off as a great deal more reasonable. Furthermore, his relationship with daughter Lisa starts off as pretty much non-existent – though over time this does change.
The creative licence taken by Boyle and Sorkin are what saves the film from absolute relegation to the shadow of that glaring question of why exactly yet another Jobs feature was needed in the first place. Although based on the authorised biography by Walter Isaac certain things, scenes like the explosive argument minutes before every crucial launch obviously didn’t conveniently take place as such. But the decision to structure the film in this way, mostly contained as it is in sequences of Jobs and co pacing the labyrinthine corridors of the various launch theatres, hurrying away from or towards whatever recent confrontation has arisen invigorates the entire feature by doing the unexpected. Plus, the layout almost mirrors the tastes and perfectionism of the man himself – a closed-off circuit board of squares, lines and angles.
Boyle drops in subtle details of his own, such as the decision to film each of the three acts on 16mm film, 35mm and digital respectively, transforming the look of the film as the decades progress. It’s not going to teach you absolutely everything there was to know about the man or even give you one hundred percent truths, but by committing to a focused dramatisation rather than a running historical biopic it is ultimately better because of these unique flairs and creative decisions. Sorkin’s rich and immersive dialogue is the catalyst that drives the electricity, and it’s an intriguing thing to watch cinema (particularly with its ‘show don’t tell’ dogma) where the drama is almost completely driven by words over actions.
Overall, Steve Jobs is a very solid feature but its main attractions sort of become the input of its director and screenwriter rather than the subject itself, though they undoubtedly chose a strong figure to follow. Fassbender is on usual form in capturing the essence of Jobs and you couldn’t fault the capabilities of the all-star cast, but maybe the weight of the interest remains in the way Boyle and Sorkin chose to portray Jobs rather than just the outright portrayal itself. Even so, this is still a staggering whirlwind of a film. Whether Jobs would have approved can’t be said, but they made this visual representation of the man engaging in making him human, and for that it’s never short on thrills.
Steve Jobs screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival and will be released in UK cinemas on 13 November 2015.