Though it might be based on Walter Isaacson’s exhaustive biography – compiled from hundreds of interviews with the man himself and those who knew him best – the big screen Steve Jobs is not a warts-and-all exploration of the digital wizard who put that little ‘i’ in front of our lives. Instead, it’s something far bolder and more innovative.
Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle and embodied by a powerhouse performance from Michael Fassbender, this tech bio is a thunderous examination of the dark side of ambition told via the extraordinary tale of an poorly made man who made perfect products.
Much like The Social Network, which famously ruffled the feathers of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Sorkin’s latest foray into the world of landmark technology has no interest in the flesh and blood Steve Jobs. In its place we have an intimate study of the character he represents: a flawed, intolerable genius with the will to change the world.
As such Sorkin eschews the traditional cradle to grave “dramatization of Jobs’ Wikipedia page” in favour of a frothy chamber play structured around three key product launches in Apple’s history.
This three-act structure is not without its drawbacks as the opening segment, set around the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, lags due to an overlong setup and the absence of a momentous end point to build towards. Yet it proves its worth in the two electrifying acts that follow. Detailing the failure of Jobs’ rival company NeXT and his triumphant return to Apple, the high stakes of these scenes fizz with a tension and drama that wouldn’t look out of place in an action movie.
How entertained you are by these scenes will likely hinge on your reaction towards Sorkin, whose script inevitably dominates proceedings. Like most of his work, Steve Jobs effectively boils down to a bunch of people talking in rooms with 200% more eloquence than any normal human being – unless you know someone who can reel off lines like “You had three weeks to fix it, the universe was created in a third of that time” at the drop of a hat?
You’d think 122 minutes of verbal ping-pong would be tiresome, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The whiplash rhythm of Sorkin’s dialogue and the extremely pressurized backstage environment in which the action is set combine to form a breathless spectacle akin to a verbose action thriller.
So all consuming is the script that this really doesn’t register as a Danny Boyle film at all, with the director’s frenetic energy restrained by Sorkin’s rapid delivery. Yet Boyle still manages to find space to create some arresting visuals, projecting film footage onto the walls and shooting each act in a different film stock to suggest the world is bending to Jobs’ will.
His most triumphant moment comes with Jobs’ firing at the end of the second act. As rain cascades outside and the mood lighting darkens, Daniel Pemberton’s rumbling score erupts into a crushing crescendo; it’s a masterfully put together scene, coming across as an operatic thunderclap of a sequence.
Much has been made over the fact Michael Fassbender hardly resembles his character, yet it all feels like on big fuss over nothing in light of his extraordinary performance. By turns witty, ferocious and mesmerizing, Fassbender wholly embodies the film’s version of an ageing Jobs, an egotistical showman who frequently compares himself to God, the Messiah and Bob Dylan and is fully prepared to bulldoze over anyone his stands in the way of his perfect vision of the future.
There’s also a vein of sentiment running through Fassbender’s Jobs that leaks out during several lump-in-the-throat scenes with his daughter Lisa, whom he initially rejects as not his despite all evidence pointing otherwise.
It’s this father-daughter bond that forms the film’s gooey moral centre. In a way, the first Macintosh acts as a metaphor for Jobs’ many flaws; with its closed system that’s incompatible with others and need to become more user friendly reflecting Jobs’ own need to soften in order to succeed, a journey further necessitated by Lisa’s increasing presence in his life.
For all its talk of tech innovation, operating systems and stock prices, Steve Jobs comes down to this heart-warming story of a flawed man who strives to improve in order to be a better father to his daughter.
It might not be the biopic you were expecting, but like the tech giant at its core, Steve Jobs gathers brilliant people to deliver a product of astounding quality that is quite unlike anything on the market.
Runtime: 122 minutes; Genre: Biopic; Released: 13 November 2015;
Director: Danny Boyle; Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson (book);
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels
Click here to watch the trailer for Steve Jobs