Steve Jobs is the highly anticipated and Oscar nominated film based on the life of the late Apple CEO and co-founder of the same name. It’s the second take at a biopic on the iconic entrepreneur since his death – the first, Jobs (2013) starring Ashton Kutcher was widely panned, and didn’t see the support of key players like Steve Wozniak.
This take, however, saw Wozniak’s support and is the official adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography. Bringing in an A-game team on the production side of things, Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) penned the screenplay, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionare) is our esteemed director, and Michael Fassbender stars as the man of the hour – performing alongside the likes of Kate Winslet in her Golden Globe winning performance as Joanna Hoffman, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley and Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak.
But while the film has star power a-plenty, if you were hoping for a definitive portrait, you will be disappointed; but the way they tell the story, allowing the characters to let Job’s story unfold more like a stage play than a blockbuster film – makes Steve Jobs a unique and wholly interesting biopic. Just not a satisfying one.
Sorkin has crafted the screenplay in three acts, each taking place at a different point in Job’s life. And all, in a decision that is equal parts genius and frustrating, take place behind-the-scenes of one of Job’s most iconic product launches. The first, the Macintosh, the second the NeXT and finally the iMac.
Each sequence dramatises the moments leading up to Jobs walking on stage, the frenetic energy something Sorkin thrives on in his script, using the organised chaos of each event to throw every aspect of Jobs life at him – family, friends and, naturally, work. It’s a tactic he used weekly in episodes of The West Wing and Studio 60, and his way to interplay in these scenes is nothing short of genius.
But it’s bizarre at the same time – these manipulated circumstances only serving to peer minimally into Job’s life, making the whole piece feel unfinished. Sorkin realises it himself, with Fassbender remarking at one point in the film the ridiculousness of everyone in his life needing something from him in the moments before he had to walk onto the stage. But nonetheless, it’s a clever way to utilise the static environment to progress the story of his life. Beyond this, minimal flashbacks are used to set scenes and circumstances, and Boyle plays with his locations in unique ways to add effect and flair to some of the most pivotal moments.
With the film so dialogue focused (and expect plenty to go over your head if you’re not tech savvy – but that’s not a big deal), some of the most interesting decisions from Boyle’s point of view will largely go unnoticed. For one, his decision to use 16mm, 35mm and then digital for the different time periods was an impressive one – though the differences are minute by the time it reaches the digital projection and few will notice. But now you know about it, you might!
Even though I saw the three-part storytelling to be something of an anti-climax, the script that is contained within each part is masterful, Danny Boyle directs the scenes and performances with skill and the performances are among the best you’ll see this awards season. Like most Sorkin screenplays, the pace is intense – the two and a bit hours race by with ease. Daniel Pemberton’s score is also wonderful – bringing a grandiose feel to scenes that were often no more than two men having an argument.
Steve Jobs isn’t a disappointing film in its craft – it’s a technically sound film full of fantastic performances. It’s a disappointing film because its decision to focus on three moments in Jobs’ life makes it feel less like a motion picture and more like an episodic miniseries out of the Studio 60 universe. Perhaps this is where Sorkin is most comfortable – and it was his intention from day one to approach the film like this – but if that’s the case, it feels deserving of its remaining parts.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Steve Jobs is released in cinemas this Thursday, February 4th.