Making a film about the recently deceased can be difficult. It can easily descend into a cynical cash grab, taking advantage of people’s sudden need to honour a dead person they didn’t care about much when they were alive. These biopics are often long, dull and sentimental as they desperately spread their legs towards the Oscars in an attempt to gain critical acclaim. Steve Jobs somehow manages to dodge this problem. Directed by Danny Boyle and scripted by Aaron Sorkin it avoids the clichés of the biopic genre and creates something genuinely interesting.
It does this by structuring itself in a style similar to a play. Three acts, each based around a particular product launch, show us Steve Jobs at different times of his life. 1984 and the launch of the Macintosh, 1988 and the launch of the NeXT and finally 1998 and the iMac. His triumphs and his failures. We never actually see the launches themselves, but instead the minutes leading up to it when a recurring cast of characters pop up to have a chat with Jobs before his big moment. It is, of course, a bit contrived, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a play and when you get past it the format works. It allows the film to be more than a vehicle for Jobs’ story but instead point to three key moments in his life and where he was at that time.
And the general answer is that wherever he is, he’s a bastard. A bastard, a cunt and all those other nice words you can think of. Steve Jobs has no problem vilifying its titular subject and that is a brave decision. How true it is, I cannot state, but it makes Job out to be a man obsessed with the product, to the extent that the people around him play second fiddle to the box he wants to get out to the market. He’s obsessed with perfection and will kill friendships in order to achieve it.
All of which leads to a pretty cold central figure. One who for 95% of the film you dislike and elicits the exact opposite of sympathy. In short, a character who it is hard to spend time with, which is where Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman comes in. She’s the audience’s presence onscreen. Sporting a very strange accent, which works when you look into Joanna’s mixed background, she is the one person who can put up with Steve’s shit. She asks the questions we are all thinking and works as his human link to the outside world. Winslet is so good in the role you forget she is there and Joanna takes her place.
She’s not alone in putting in a brilliant performance, with the real surprise coming from Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. The usually comic actor brings a sweetness to the role, he’s the guy you want to be the hero but is consistently pushed aside for Jobs. It’s a serious turn from Rogen and suggests that there could be a Jonah Hill style career switch for him in the future. The real star of the show though is Michael Fassbender who glides effortlessly past the fact he looks nothing like Jobs. This is a film full of actors acting at the top of their game and it is a joy to watch.
They are of course helped a lot by the Aaron Sorkin script, which bears all of his hallmarks. Quick talking and quick walking being the obvious ones. The dialogue flows constantly but never gets over complicated and most importantly is never dull. So the only question that remains is is it worthy of the big screen? Does this play like film, with its dialogue heavy script work on a cinema screen? Well, that’s where Danny Boyle comes in. For while this feels like a Sorkin script, it is aided by his style. Each conference is filmed on a different film stock, 16 mm for 1984, 35 mm for 1988 and digital for 1999. It’s a subtle difference, but it gives each era a distinctive feel. While Boyle makes the walking and the talking come alive. Conversations held in corridors as the roof shakes from the stamping of the feet of the crowd above become tense and thrilling. Sorkin may be the master of this film, but Boyle helps perfect it.
I went into Steve Jobs expecting to be bored. It’s as simple as that. I don’t care about Apple and I don’t care about Jobs. Yet for the two hours it was on the screen I was gripped. This dialogue heavy film will not appeal to those desperate for their cinema to blow shit up, but it will appeal to those who are willing to be caught up in gripping filmmaking. Early numbers suggest it is unlikely to make the money it needs to be a success, which is a damn shame because Steve Jobs is a film about a dead bloke which manages to avoid nearly all the pitfalls that stood in its way It is a lot better than it has any right to be.