Steve Jobs was (and remains) a man whom it is nigh impossible to regard with any degree of indifference—the tech visionary behind Apple has inspired devoted admirers and passionate haters in equal measure, with some attaching to him that most dangerous of words that is ‘genius,’ and others dismissing him as a narcissist who took more credit for Apple’s success than he deserved. But whatever your opinion of the man may be, it’s unlikely that Danny Boyle’s movie is going to leave it unrocked. What he gives us is a brilliantly complex and daring portrait of the now iconic tech giant.
Right from the film’s opening moments, we are hit by a ferocious hurricane blast of Aaron Sorkin’s sharp dialogue as Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his team attempt to solve a technical error on the original Macintosh prior to its launch event. Backstage, Jobs is confronted by his former girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) for denying paternity of their daughter and making slanderous remarks about her in interviews. These challenges, along with other encounters with figures including Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) make up the frenzy of preparations as Jobs readies himself to take to the stage.
This sequence of events represents one of the mere three scenes that make up this movie—the aforementioned launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT in 1988 after Jobs’ departure from Apple, and the launch of the iMac in 1998 after his return. Each of these scenes takes place in real time (with a few interspersed flashbacks) as he prepares himself to give the respective presentations. There’s a distinctive visual style for each one, and the three together form a grand ‘rise’, ‘fall’ and ‘redemption’ narrative in the Steve Jobs story. It’s a bold piece of film-making, and it pays off fantastically. Instead of giving us a standard model biopic in which we might see Jobs’s life play out in a chronological series of events, Boyle and Sorkin deliver a refined drama that brims with urgency and an almost manic energy.
Aaron Sorkin’s screenplays often bring out the best in actors, and Steve Jobs is no exception. Michael Fassbender, despite bearing absolutely no physical resemblance to Jobs, gives one of his best performances to date in this movie. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this performance is the restraint that he brings to the role. A lesser actor would have overacted to play the famously mercurial Jobs. While Fassbender does shout and scream at the right moments, his Steve is often more subdued and brooding. And yet that fiery intensity behind Jobs’s eyes is never absent. A well-deserved Oscar nomination (and possibly even a win) will almost certainly be coming Mr Fassbender’s way. The strongest link from the supporting cast is Kate Winslet, who shines as Jobs’s marketing executive Joanna Hoffmann. Her character acts as Steve’s conscience, albeit one that he ignores all-too frequently.
The cliché of the ‘flawed genius’ persona has been portrayed many times in film history, with varying degrees of originality, so anyone approaching this film with scepticism could be forgiven. But Steve Jobs’s statement (or, perhaps, his command) of ‘Think Different’ is taken by Boyle and Sorkin as one of the founding principles of this film, leading to a fiercely unique take on the trope. Using the film’s unconventional structure, acute writing and talented stars, the director gives us a portrait of Jobs as an extraordinary man in an extraordinary moment in space and time. He may or may not be a true genius—the audience members are left to form their own judgment.
Although Steve Jobs is not a monumental masterpiece on the same level as the other recent Sorkin-penned tech biopic, The Social Network, it’s still a tremendous piece of cinema. Its only real misstep is the rather mawkish ending it gives itself, but that’s not enough to destroy the electrifying two hours that preceded it. The movie is a triumph of creativity and outside the box thinking that its subject would no doubt have lauded.