DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Elliot Graham • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
In regards to the biopic film, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs|is a breath of fresh air, albeit a breath that their actors seldom get in this backstage linguistic battle royale. Their portrayal of Steve Jobs doesn’t follow the tedious and meandering cradle-to-the-grave format, but actually abbreviates the narrative into three separate acts respectively – 1984, 1988, 1998 – all commencing minutes before a major product launch. And like the three acts of a stage play, this film relies on talking… a lot of talking. And like playwrights before him – Mamet, Chayefsky, Shakespeare – Sorkin boasts his own trademark dialogue.
Straight out the gate and we’re riddled with rapid Sorkin rat-a-tat spitfire, piercing and deflating any notion of exposition, as we play keep-up with Fassbender’s Jobs and his backstage world. We follow him, mostly by tracking shot, through corridors as characters from his work and personal life berate him about his lack of empathy. He talks down to his work colleagues, threatens his friends, his ex-girlfriend and daughter are on welfare despite his wealth – anyone who comes into contact with the man becomes miserable… I mean this guy’s a real jerk!
His closest confidant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive, and in ways, his guardian angel, who acts as his conscience constantly urging him to do the right thing for his daughter and ultimately himself. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), is somewhat a father figure, a close friend until the Apple began to rot. Apple co-founder and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) pops by before each of the three launches to support Jobs and ask him to acknowledge the Apple II team. The recurring sentimentality throughout the film is Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who at first he denies is his, but slowly builds a closer relationship with her throughout the years. A lesser films would have saturated the audience with this sentimentality, but luckily here the filmmakers keep their protagonist as unlikable as possible.
The characters walk and talk in breakneck speed, accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s lavish score – a fusion of operatic classical and techno burps – that sounds like Beethoven and Kraftwerk had a few too many and stuck the DO-NOT-DISTURB sign up. The high tempo dialogue always keeps the audience alert and on their toes. There’s a sense of emergence about it. Danny Boyle’s sleek, yet uncharacteristically subtle, direction compliments Sorkin’s pace and overall Steve Jobs’ minimalist style and vision. Boyle incorporates colourful visual distortions into the few moments of silence we get. Another little touch Boyle brought to the movie was filming the three acts in different formats -16mm, 35mm and digital, an artistic stroke that Jobs probably would of lapped up like a dog.
The style that Boyle and Sorkin convey is like that of an Apple product – compressed, precise, dynamic, icey, minimal – all subtle characteristics that Jobs utilised when marketing and releasing a new computer. As the most quoted line in the movie – “musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” – exclaims, Jobs was a man who needed to be in control. The film suggests that he was a man who was afraid to delve too deep professionally and personally. He felt in control about how he marketed and presented, the bigger picture, the vision, but when it got complicated in IT or with his ex-girlfriend and daughter he couldn’t cope or understand. He wasn’t a man of tech or science, but a man who knew how to manipulate the people, stay ahead of the curve and adapt his vision to the culture.
Fassbender doesn’t resemble Jobs physically, unlike Ashton Kutcher, whose personal admiration for the man and bad acting hurt his feature. What Fassbender brings to the role is sheer energy, whether firing off some Sorkin dingers or utilising great physicality to compliment the erratic dialogue. He doesn’t have to rely on his appearance for the role because he delves deeper in himself to find the character. He has a great cast to support him too, specifically Kate Winslet, whose subtle Polish accent is right on point. Seth Rogen’s performance is modest, which is a great relief and Jeff Daniels straight corporate demeanor fits the bill. There’s one scene in particular between Fassbender and Daniels that is the verbal equivalent of a western showdown. The volume of the score heightens, as cuts to flashbacks help push the argument forward, raising the dramatic ambience as the two characters scream at each other.
Critics have acknowledged the film’s Shakespearean overtones, but I haven’t seen anyone mention Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jobs being the wealthy entrepreneurial-tech Ebenezer Scrooge, who lacks empathy and is visited by friends and enemies who either want a favour or want to help. Has a few flashbacks to a time before the megalomania and it take three acts to slightly redeem him. Or in more recent years, Sorkin’s Steve Jobs anti-hero characterisation can be compared to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview – another man so professionally driven that he becomes isolated from people.
Some have criticised Steve Jobs| of relying too heavily on style and cartoonish dialogue rather than conveying a true depiction of the man, as if all the epic sentimental biopics have it down to a tee. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional film based on true events and the filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus down to three important events in Jobs’ professional career, whilst intertwining elements of his personal and ultimately pursuing a day-in-a-life portrayal of the man. Others have complained about Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, criticising it for being unrealistic because people in real life don’t speak like it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to tech jargon spoon fed to me in Bob Geldof mode for two hours. I want it razor-sharp and potent so it grabs me and pulls me into its accelerated world. I don’t want to remain docile, I need to adapt.
Sorkin has proved to be one of the most distinctive voices in television and film dialogue working today bearing a strong sense of high-speed energy within his body of work. For Boyle, this is a nicely understated return, abandoning his trademark kinetic visuals and adapting a more subtle approach in order to accommodate Sorkin’s writing. The result is a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue. iReally liked it (I am sorry).
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Steve Jobs| is released 13th November 2015
Steve Jobs| – Official Website