Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle recruit an extraordinary cast for the year’s smartest, riskiest character study.
Aaron Sorkin likes writing difficult men, probably because he is one. Josiah Bartlet, Matt Albie, Charlie Wilson, Will McAvoy: our century’s greatest Hollywood screenwriter sure likes to project his temperamental character onto leading men in his film and television projects, and who better for him to immortalise on the silver screen with his silver pen than our century’s most notorious difficult genius? Steve Jobs is many things to many people, an enigma certainly being high on the list. He is in most areas the complete opposite of Sorkin’s last cinematic tech subject, Mark Zuckerberg: pompous, charismatic and capable of a self-awareness that- for example- leads him to dress nicely and maintain a plutonic relationship with his marketing chief Joanna Hoffman for decades while Zuckerberg walks around grinning goofily. The Jobs of this film is an artist and he is a gentleman, but he’s also fairly despicable. His attitude towards his young daughter, his relationship to whom he initially denies, is ghastly in the opening scenes, and the manner in which he throws absurd demands in the faces of Hoffman and his staff is characteristic of a true psychopath. However, Sorkin- like few others can- is able to use the film’s two hours to give Jobs’ actions an understandable motivation and goal, and Jobs exits the film a maniacal and obnoxious but undeniably pleasant figure.
The credit for the captivating brilliance of this film, and the central character is particular, is only partially Sorkin’s. Michael Fassbender is exceptional as Jobs, throwing out claims of non-existent resemblance to the real Steve within seconds with his magnetising, elegant presence. His eyes have an indescribable level of depth, and they change from scene to scene depending on who Jobs is engaging with. Using the word “scene” in relation to Steve Jobs is tricky, because it’s a film comprised of really only three extended sequences, taking place backstage in three theatres in 1984 (shot period-specifically on grainy 16mm), 1988 (35mm) and 1998 (glossy digital film). This experimentation from director Danny Boyle may sounds gimmicking, but it’s beautiful in practise, and should really be utilised by more filmmakers attempting to add an additional layer of authenticity to their time-jumping biopics. Boyle and Sorkin have, with that and the film’s generally unpredictable structure and format, produced a surprisingly experimental film. This is no biopic. Sentimentality is crushed with a lead boot whenever it peeks its head in, but the Sorkin-penned conversations are emotive enough to allow every character to become fully-formed. Surrounding the magnificent Fassbender in these stadia of dreams are Kate Winslet (struggling slightly with a Polish accent as Joanna Hoffman but a good female counterbalance for the intermittently chauvinistic Jobs), Seth Rogen (laboured with the few sub-par lines of the film, largely due to Sorkin giving the Steve Wozniak character much of the technological jargon and computer metaphors), Jeff Daniels (reliably superb as the “villain” of the piece John Scully) and the great Michael Stuhlbarg. Jobs’ daughter Lisa is portrayed at three ages by different actresses. They’re all fairly fantastic, but Broadway actress Ripley Sobo, who plays 9-year old Lisa, gives one of the film’s standout performances, depositing energy on the otherwise dark and drab Computing Showcase setting and unleashing a new side of Jobs as they converse on the topic of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. In this not-entirely-long film, there are countless sides of Jobs explored through his relationships with Hoffman, Wozniak and Scully, but it’s in his moments with Lisa that he is at his most three-dimensional.
As an intensely theatrical film unsurprisingly carried to excellence by its script and acting, it’s difficult at times to place the merit of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s involvement. Where there are traces of an auteur director, they are consistently of David Fincher- who circled the project for years following the success of he and Sorkin’s The Social Network. Boyle’s style is defined predominantly by use of snappy editing and scene-specific music, in which Steve Jobs is abundant, but these are arguably characteristics prevalent in Fincher and Sorkin’s filmographies. Nonetheless, Steve Jobs is much, much much better than a film about a recently deceased capitalist inventor deserves to be. It’s fast, it’s bold, it rarely slows down for a second. It’s takes risks where it theoretically shouldn’t, and they almost always pay off. The Social Network‘s brooding, psychologically-charged tone is forfeited for something halfway between Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Sorkin’s underrated HBO drama The Newsroom. There is no formula, and there are no rules. It’s easy to argue that, were this itself a TV miniseries of some sort, it would be a more complex and expanded work, but that’s simply missing the point. Sorkin’s skill is in giving the audience information early and quickly, allowing room for his witty and wise poetry to flow. And oh, how the poetry of Steve Jobs does flow.