WRITTEN REVIEW – Steve Jobs (2015)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels & Katherine Waterston
Music: Daniel Pemberton
Release Date: November 13th 2015
In regards to personalities running large technology companies, few CEO’s have reached mainstream awareness like the late Steve Jobs. The co-founder of Apple in 1976 and the CEO of the Company from 1997 up until his death from Cancer in 2011 was a public figure that was hugely respected in the industry and was even able to cultivate an intensely passionate and rabid fanbase for Apple products that still lingers today. In fact, since his death in 2011 many people have argued that Apple’s business ethos and output quality have severely dwindled, such is the impact of Steve Jobs to the tech-industry.
As a result, after his death and before the ink on the death certificate was even dry, Hollywood sought to produce not one, not two, not three but (at least) four movies based on the former Apple-CEO. There was a standard biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, a “Funny or Die” parody starring Justin Long, a documentary by Alex Gibney and a unique, literal three-act biopic written by Aaron Sorkin to be directed by David Fincher and starring Christian Bale. The final project ultimately hit numerous production snags and was effected by the infamous 2014 Sony Hack causing Universal to save the project and put Danny Boyle in the director’s chair and cast Michael Fassbender as Jobs. After such a troubled production-cycle, can the finished movie be worth the wait and is this the definitive Steve Jobs interpretation?
Rather than take the form of a conventional life-story, ‘Steve Jobs‘ takes place in real-time back-stage in the lead-up to three historic product launches; the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. During the back-stage drama, Steve Jobs (Fassbender) interacts with his head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak (Rogen), former Apple CEO between 1983 and 1993 John Sculley (Daniels) and his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Waterston). Jobs must not only make sure the launches go exactly how he plans, but must also try and make amends to his and Chrisann’s child, Lisa, who Jobs denies being the father of.
By taking this format as opposed to a conventional biopic ‘Steve Jobs‘ is already touting itself as an incredibly unique and thought-provoking portrayal of Steve Jobs who is under a lot of stress to make sure these product launches and presentations go well and showing how he interacts with his friends, family and co-workers in a work environment as opposed to being in a position of leisure or working his way up the corporate ladder, as he is already there.
That having been said, while ‘Steve Jobs‘ is clearly not meant to be an accurate representation of the lead-up to these product launches and is aiming to condense most of the drama and personal-troubles over the past 4-10 years into a single act of a movie, the fact that all of these issues come to the forefront minutes before Steve Jobs is meant to take to a stage does hurt the credibility of the drama somewhat. There’s a funny quip in the third act where Steve throws his arms up and asks why everyone unloads their personal issues onto him just before a product launch. Yeah, it’s a funny piece of self-deprecating humour, but it feels like lamp-shade hanging on an actual narrative issue with the movie.
It also does a disservice to how Steve Jobs is portrayed during these sequences. Yes, Steve Jobs was known to be very rude and patronising to people, but considering the fact that he is minutes away from an incredibly important public event, it’s understandable that he would be tense and standoffish. As someone who has had to do public-speaking and technical stage management, I can understand the stress he’s going to, but Steve Jobs must be feeling that times a thousand. As a result, certain scenes where the audience are meant to hate Steve Jobs actually came across as him being naturally stressed and even reasonable considering the circumstances.
It also doesn’t help that, very much like the Apple products Steve Jobs was so passionate about, the movie is a closed circuit. Its acts are self-contained to a fault as many characters argue over issues and events that the audience aren’t privvy to. There are very short montages before each act to set the scene but these feel inadequate to set up the current status quo, or at least make the audience understand just what these people are passionately arguing about.
These narrative and structural shortcomings may have been fine in a stage-production where a certain level of abstraction is to be expected (and, for the record, if Universal and/or Aaron Sorkin allowed this script to be performed by professional theatre companies, I would drop the money to see that play in a heartbeat) but in a movie that is clearly going for a much more intimate and character-driven approach, it would have been nice to see those character arcs play out as opposed to being delivered in such a deliberately stilted way.
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, apart from those rather major grievances, ‘Steve Jobs‘ is still an incredibly well written movie in terms of dialogue and character interactions. The emotions of the movie don’t quite ring true because, let’s face it, the closest thing ‘Steve Jobs‘ has to stakes is “Will this millionaire become a billionaire?”, but Aaron Sorkin’s propensity for writing immensely quotable and multi-layered dialogue comes through in ‘Steve Jobs‘. This type of source material demands a writer with the breadth of experience Sorkin has, as opposed to the 2013 movie ‘Jobs‘ which was written by first-timer, Matt Whiteley (and it felt like a first-timer).
Most of ‘Steve Jobs‘ takes place indoors, with characters walking through corridors and talking to each other, but the verbal sparring makes it feel like an action-movie comprised almost entirely with dialogue. Like Sorkin’s script for ‘The Social Network‘, the screenplay is incredibly dense (which would make a theatrical adaptation of this even more impressive to pull off) but it never lacks in humanity or character-defining moments, particularly from Steve Wozniak and his interactions with Steve Jobs in front of his peers. Steve Jobs, while condescending and often unreasonable, is still a fiercely intelligent and passionate individual and I feel that it does speak wonders to this interpretation where friends and former-colleagues of Jobs are split on Fassbender’s portrayal and Sorkin’s characterisation with many saying it’s a dead ringer of Jobs and some saying it’s completely unlike him.
Michael Fassbender, while hardly looking like Steve Jobs (at least until the end with his thinning, grey hair, full-rim glasses and black turtleneck making him truly look the part) manages to capture his essence and his forceful, though often subdued personality. Steve Jobs, as far as I understand him, was not the type of person to scream and shout at his subordinates, but to deliver a quiet intensity and a gritting of the teeth that Fassbender gets across, while also delivering the passion Jobs had as a committed futurist who was waiting for technology to get to where he wanted it to be to change the world. The three different iterations of Jobs Fassbender has to play feel distinct and he does a great job with the huge amount of Sorkin-dialogue he’s been given, while also working very well with the rest of the cast. An Academy Award nomination may be coming Fassbender’s way early next year.
Going back to whether or not this movie would work as a stage play, if it did make the transfer, I can easily imagine Kate Winslet’s role of Joanna Hoffman being a female actor’s favourite. Winslet doesn’t have an incredibly showy role, but Hoffman is an incredibly endearing character in that she doesn’t take shit from anybody, especially Steve Jobs despite his commanding presence. There’s clearly an affection between the two, but it’s not romantic and it’s built on mutual respect. On the other side of the spectrum, while we have Winslet selling the hell out of the business side of Apple, we have Seth Rogan working on the technical side as Steve Wozniak and he’s very well cast as an every-man which clashes with Steve Jobs’ personality. But the two are clearly friends, not just co-founders of this business.
And if you want to get an experienced, older actor who can remember reams of business-sounding dialogue and make it sound compelling, you get Jeff Daniels. He’s just awesome here as usual. It’s also worth mentioning three great performances from Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Three very different iterations from the growing Lisa, but still the same person. Great pieces of casting.
While it’s hard not to be dismayed that director David Fincher got dropped from the project (who collaborated with Aaron Sorkin with great success in 2010’s ‘The Social Network‘), Danny Boyle does a great job filling his shoes. Boyle does deliver a very different movie than the rest of his résumé as he reigns in his usual frenetic, dizzying style and lets Sorkin’s script do most of the work. It’s not quite directing-autopilot but it’s clear that Boyle has restrained himself and it works for this movie. Also, any director that can make 122 minutes of non-stop talking engaging is doing something right.
Though a lot of that may also come down to the superb editing from Elliot Graham, who received an Academy Award Nomination for his work on 2008’s ‘Milk‘ and I hope gets a nomination again this year. The three acts of ‘Steve Jobs‘ take place in real-time and thanks to Graham’s editing there’s always a great rhythm to the scenes as well as an effective sense of geography and timing. As two people are talking the movie may briefly cut to audience members walking into the auditorium awaiting Steve Jobs to come out onto the stage and speak while the dialogue plays over the shots. It’s a simple but effective way of reminding the audience what is happening outside the confines of the conversation.
Alwin H. Küchler delivers the best cinematography you can ask for in regards to a big-budget episode of “The West Wing” giving the movie a polished look. The idea to film the 1984 act in 16mm to give it a grainier feel, the 1988 act in 35mm to increase the clarity slightly and the 1998 act in digital to give a crisper and cleaner image helps give the audience a subliminal sense of time progressing and the world advancing technologically as the movie goes on. And Daniel Pemberton’s score is bombastic and incredibly epic considering that most of the movie can be summed up as “two people talking”, but oddly enough it works and the music that underscores the end of Act 2 where Steve Jobs and John Sculley butt heads with each other might be one of the best standalone tracks of the year.
‘Steve Jobs‘ is an odd beast in that, when all is said and done, it emotionally falls flat and a lot of the movie devolves into intense conversation sequences that don’t remotely involve the audience dramatically. It has narrative issues too big to ignore, yet at the same time there’s something incredibly admirable about how it bucks the tradition of just depicting a standard life-story biopic. Its real-time, three-act script is dynamic and unlike anything that’s out this year and the cast are incredible as is the production with superb editing and music holding the tightly focused film together. It’s far from perfect, but it’s incredibly easy to respect as an example of brilliant craftsmanship that neither deifies or demonises one of the most influential men in recent memory.
Though it probably would have been better as a stage play.
I give ‘Steve Jobs‘ 3 and half stars out of 5.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 16th Nov 15