Steve Jobs comes to the screen in a different form than many expected and anticipated, but it still succeeds thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s sharp and inventive script and Michael Fassbender’s skillful embodiment of Jobs’ energy, drive and darker sides.
Originally the film was proposed as something of follow-up/companion piece to Sorkin’s The Social Network screenplay, with Sony Pictures planning to reunite him with director David Fincher for the story of another maladjusted ‘genius’. Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale were successively attached to star as the titular Apple CEO but dropped out; according to reports, DiCaprio dropped out after being begged by Jobs’ widow not to get involved. Some say this was because the script doesn’t offer a fair account of the man, others because the film would seek to undermine the self-mythologising that was started by Jobs and continues to this day. Fincher passed when the studio wouldn’t meet his wage demands and, after a change of studio, Danny Boyle picked up the reins and made the shrewd move of getting Fassbender on board.
Ironically enough, the story of the 21st century’s most important technological innovator is told here in the old-fashioned style of the theatre. It’s a really interesting choice to write what is basically a dialogue-heavy play of three 40 minute acts. This unusual biopic is set behind the scenes of three of his most important product launches – 1984, ’88 and ’98 – tracking the changes in his career, in his relationships with five important people, and in himself, over the course of sixteen years. Loosely based on Walter Isaacson’s official biography, the film rejigs and reformats some of the details of Jobs’ life to create a heightened drama, but keeps the (some will argue inaccurate) central idea – that this wasn’t a true visionary genius, but an incredibly driven and talented businessman and marketer, a man with many faults who sought control of his life through the creation of perfect products.
Jobs is portrayed as an asshole, a controlling bully and narcissistic liar, betraying those around him while decrying that he’s being betrayed himself. The fault which takes priority in this narrative though is him denying his parentage of his daughter Lisa. Too many biopics have focused on the issues that fathers (absent or not) can wreak on people’s lives, and while it’s an important part of Jobs, the focus on his relationship with Lisa is perhaps to the detriment of the larger and maybe more interesting questions that surround a man whose work would undeniably go on to change the world.
Lead by the almost predatory Fassbender (who, as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says, makes you “feel like [you’re] in his head understanding what was going on inside of him”), the performances are uniformly excellent, with the actors portraying Lisa at each age each giving their own distinct takes, and Kate Winslet especially strong in the third act. Though there are nice stylistic touches, such as the music composed and film shot on different, distinct formats, Boyle takes a surface-level directing style, letting the words take precedence over the visuals. Boyle chooses to use close-ups and handheld trailing cameras and skillfully manages to keep up a near exhausting tempo (reflected in the growing anticipation and restlessness of the presentations’ crowds) that sucks the viewer in and almost hides the film’s flaws. When the credits roll though, it’s difficult to not wonder what more a director like Fincher would have done with this screenplay – especially with the connective tissue between acts, which Boyle chooses to fill with expository news footage.
The script is packed with Sorkin trademarks (timing, finesse with language, walk-and-talks), and though he deftly weaves in big and small details, characters, energy, and much of Jobs’ backstory, much of the dialogue is too contrived. From Jobs talking about father figures and his adoption with former Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), to Apple co-founder Wozniak (Seth Rogen) telling Jobs that “Computers aren’t supposed to have human flaws, and I’m not going to build this one with yours”, and Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman (who basically acts as Jobs’ conscience) giving a big speech that his most important achievement will be fatherhood, the prompts to the audience are too strong. This movie is like the original Macintosh of Steve Jobs films – there’s surely still a better, definitive version on the production line.
Steve Jobs is in cinemas from 4th February through Universal Pictures.