I was thinking about skipping writing a post on this film, not because it isn’t worthy of praise, but rather because time got away from me. However, it has (unfortunately) become timely once more since Steve Jobs has been pulled from theatres. Why? It didn’t make enough money. *Sighs*
Based on Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name, Steve Jobs is about the famous tech genius whose influence is still palpable today, four years after his death. I say that the film is “based” upon the book, but only in a broad sense. Writer Aaron Sorkin likened the film to a painting rather than a photo; viewed through that lens, it is an achievement of interpretive creativity. Events may not have been recreated beat for beat, but what does take place on screen still resonates as true through the strength of its representative qualities, much in the way Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried is a recollection of Vietnam war time experiences that are true even though many of them did not happen. The spirit of the subject is what is captured and in that fashion Steve Jobs is incredibly successful.
Rather than being a rote biopic, Steve Jobs toys with storytelling convention, eschewing the standard A to B, rise from nothing plot to instead focus on three distinct periods within Jobs’ life, specifically the hour or so backstage before three of his biggest announcements which include the original Macintosh, the doomed NEXT, and the revolutionary iMac. In this way, the film plays out like a three-act play, giving the audience three distinct variations of Jobs at different time periods in his life. It is a credit to Aaron Sorkin’s writing that there remains a very palpable emotional through-line throughout the film despite its unique structure; it never panders to apologists or haters, instead showing Jobs’ positive and negative qualities with little bias, never making him out to be anything more or less than the man he was: volatile, but driven, callous, but innovative, hurtful, but brilliant. Though the film is populated with top-tier performances, it truly is the Aaron Sorkin Show and anyone longing for another fast-firing, witticism-filled two hours of wall-to-wall dialogue is going to be pleased.
Leading the cast as the titular Steve Jobs is Michael Fassbender, one of my favorite actors working today. Continuing on an already impressive string of performances in recent years (he should have been nominated for Shame), Fassbender delivers every Sorkin quip and zinger with such effortlessness that he fully inhabits the character despite looking nothing like him. Their difference in appearance only further highlights Fassbender’s skill, making you forget you’re watching an actor much in the way Michelle Williams captured the spirit of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Though he does spend much of his time going toe-to-toe with other actors in vicious arguments, Fassbender also captures quieter moments of self-reflection and doubt, as well as Jobs’ contagious excitement and ineffable charisma, lending layers to what could have been a one-note performance, and making Steve Jobs an understandable and inspiring, if not entirely likeable main character. Since the film has been pulled from theatres, it will be interesting to see whether or not Fassbender receives the awards recognition he undoubtedly deserves. Let’s hope that nominations are doled out to actors based upon displaying excellence in their craft without the added requirement of said performance having been in a commercial success.
Fassbender is onscreen nearly every minute of the film and he carries that weight without trouble, but the supporting cast also turns in a string of inspired performances, the most notable of which being Kate Winslet as Jobs’ long-time friend and business associate, Joanna Hoffman and Seth Rogen as tech luminary, Steve Wozniak. Winslet excels as Jobs’ voice of reason, portraying a woman who would not be cowed by Jobs’ tendency toward callousness and instead challenged him to become a better person. Rogen delivers the best performance of his career, showing a kind, introvert’s struggle to be heard and acknowledged in the face of Job’s often overpowering, egomaniacal personality.
Moving from the actors to the director, Danny Boyle shines in Steve Jobs, never attempting to ape the clean lines and cold, calculated quality of David Fincher’s work in The Social Network (another Sorkin, tech film), but also practicing a fair amount of restraint not often seen in his work. This is not to say that the usual fast-paced, kinetic sort of energy that he displays in his films is bad (it worked in 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire), but in a film set in our reality, based upon very recent events, a more grounded approach seems to have been the smarter option. Boyle instead uses different types of film and film techniques to distinguish the three time periods displayed, coupled with a number of text overlays and color choices that further enhance one’s sense of time and place in each act. The sum of these choices is a visually engaging film that is never boring, one that maintains the audience’s interest even when the action of the scene is literally two characters talking in an empty room. Boyle’s stylistic direction, aided by cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler’s impressive eye, and Daniel Pemberton’s pulsing, electronic soundtrack make for a beautiful product, perhaps even one that could have reached Jobs’ famously high standards (this is doubtful, but I thought the sentence read well).
Overall, I think it is a shame that a movie this good did not find an audience. In every respect, it is a finely-crafted piece of cinema, one which casts light upon a towering figure within our modern culture in an even manner that never rings false. Though it didn’t succeed commercially, I hope that at least Fassbender receives recognition for the incredible strength of his work here. That being said, Steve Jobs is a great film and an astounding biopic. Watch it and you’ll experience a little added wonder every time you see an iPhone, iPod, iPad, or MacBook and realize the staggering impact Steve Jobs has had on our society and the modern world as a whole.