"You can't put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board, the graphical interface was stolen. So how come, ten times a day, I read 'Steve Jobs is a genius'?"To repeat a phrase that several critics have undoubtedly used in the past few weeks, Aaron Sorkin may be the most gifted writer in the film industry today. His body of work includes brilliant work such as ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘The Social Network’ and one might worry that after tackling one techno-icon with the biopic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that he is simply repeating himself by writing one about the only man that could rival Zuckerberg as the icon of the information age. Do not worry about that.
Set in a three act structure, each chronicling the events before a separate product launch. In 1984 in anticipation for the launch of the Macintosh, in 1988 as a returning Jobs (Michael Fassbender) prepares to introduce his NeXT system and in 1998 as he on the verge of unveiling the iMac. Behind the scenes he is plagued by breakdowns of an emotional and technical nature.
There is no denying that ‘Steve Jobs’ shares some similarities with ‘The Social Network’, both are about the biggest figures of the information age, both are portrayed as quite unlikable characters, both have a disgruntled partner and they share the irony of how someone who improves social communication are themselves socially inept when it comes to communication. They are also, completely thrilling.
By using this three act structure Sorkin keeps what could have been a deviated and frantic story become oddly claustrophobic. It also allows him to examine as many aspects of Jobs’ life as he could but also in a unique and inventive style. Among the issues with the 2013 film ‘Jobs’ was that it felt like a substandard biopic and lacked fixation on its titular character, as well as ending just when it was getting interesting. Sorkin’s script is compacted and fast but is also able to slow down when it needs to try and dissect the man that was Steve Jobs. The script also draws parallels with itself, contains beautifully intelligent dialogue, performs quick autopsies on its own characters and then maintains its humanity amid a sea of isolated minds. I feel as if I have to emphasise that Sorkin’s screenplay is a masterpiece of modern writing in cinema.
Enough about the script though, however magnificent it is. For these words could ultimately mean very little without the talent to preform them, and the talent is very visible. Seth Rogan takes a dramatic turn as co-founder Steve Wozniak who repeatedly makes a compassionate case for why it is Jobs who is heralded as a genius and he remains mostly unknown. Kate Winslet offers a sense of solidity as marketing expert Joanna Hoffman by being the only character guided by her human emotions beyond anything else. Even Jeff Daniels offers a more dimensional take on the Apple board member that called for Jobs’ dismissal, a role that could easily be reduced to simplicity is given a justification to dislike the company’s founder.
The founder in question is the stand out performance. Perhaps the true masterfulness of Fassbender’s performance is how he makes the character magnetic and interesting while maintaining an icy cruelty. He also nails that fact that at the heart of this story is the relationship with Jobs’ daughter whom Jobs denies is his, going as far to create an algorithm to determine that there is a 28% chance she is not. But occasionally he takes a shine to her. An emotional flourish, or sign of empathy perhaps? Fassbender offers no conclusion to the character, no definitive statement on what, exactly, Steve Jobs was. He may not look like him, but he embodies Jobs in an astounding way.
Obviously Sorkin deserves credit for the films structure and tone but please, give some credit to Danny Boyle. His direction injects a sense of pulsating energy to the film and stages it in a more operatic and theatrical style. His long takes, rapid and dynamic camera movements and adrenaline fuelled tracking shots all serve as an allegory to match the tone of the scene. Each act is shot to be time specific, even down to the smallest details of 1984 being filmed in 16mm film, 35mm in 1988 and on digital for 1998. There is a sense of progress and development, of technological advancement. Something that rings very true for this subject.
‘Steve Jobs’ is a masterful and synchronised effort of filmmaking. From the performances to the writing and to the direction it is stunning and flawless.