Director: Danny Boyle
Words: J. Wood
“It’s as if five minutes before every launch everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think”
The above quote, coming midway through the final act of Aaron Sorkin’s stage like biopic of Apple Computers founder Steve Jobs, outlines the supreme confidence of a writer who, like in his admittedly marginally better work on The Social Network, takes a subject inexorably linked to the somewhat dull world of technology and frames it with a narrative device so breathtakingly bold that it comes to define the film. This film spends two hours charting the behind the scenes goings on of three of Jobs’ product launches, over a thirteen year period, with only the briefest of flashback scenes to take the audience out of the drama.
The direction of Danny Boyle has a kinetic flashiness that compliments Sorkin’s writings just as much as that of David Fincher did, although this is a film that didn’t have as much need to be showy. Indeed the tracking shots through the labyrinthine hallways of various expo centres bear the hallmarks more of Martin Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson, but the glossy way in which the film is shot, even in the earlier scenes, filmed on Super 16 and Super 35 to match the periods being depicted, are unmistakably Danny Boyle. The Danny Boyle movie this reminded me most of, bizarrely, was 127 Hours, in the way Boyle and his team edit the expository like news footage as hallucinogenic like sequences to take the audience out of the droll, one note locations, much the same as he did to remove his audience, albeit momentarily, from James Franco’s tortured existence in the canyon.
In spite of the mastery and flair Boyle brings to proceedings behind the camera it is Aaron Sorkin whose stamp is most firmly on this film. Like David Mamet before him he just has an extraordinary way in scripting fractious relationships, often based around dispute and strife that is both extremely wordy, yet it has a verve and a point to it, unlike say a Quentin Tarantino like script. It is almost as if his scripts are poetry, a verbal game of Jenga or Kerplunk in that any mis-spoken word would lead to the whole thing crashing down. Having seen the film twice now I have been struck both times by how daring a move the strict three act structure is, pretty much revolving around the same core cast of characters each time, and how intriguingly it works.
In doing so there is something of a Cloud Atlas device going on in how certain relationships change for better or worse, whereas certain relationships stay the same throughout. For example there is a permanent grudging mutual respect between Jobs and Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman, while Seth Rogen’s Wozniak is always belittled for wanting a modicum of credit. Conversely you see the gradual improvement in relationship between Jobs and his daughter Lisa in only three scenes, whilst John Scully goes from father figure, to Brutus, to forgiving redemption over three scenes. As for Jobs himself, he is portrayed fairly obviously as a genius, but the film is not afraid to accentuate his flaws, not just his denial of paternity but his bull-headed insistence of his own rightness in the face of all and sundry pointing out his mistakes.
The film is brilliantly acted, not least by Michael Fassbender, who, despite being given a character who is cruel, condescending and ruthless ensures that his magnetism as a leading man makes him an engaging, likeable central figure. Just watch the way he gets into a groove with the dialogue, not least in his second confrontation with Scully, or third with Wozniak, and see how he holds the screen with his sheer charisma. Even though it takes until the third act for any effort to be made for him to resemble Jobs, the change does not jar because the performance is just totally without deviation throughout, even though the film spans thirteen years, the film and Fassbender imply the character’s slight change and mellowing rather than layering it on with a trowel. Opposite him throughout is Kate Winslet, giving a supremely nuanced performance as Hoffman, the lightning rod for Jobs’ anger and frustrations, whose sturdy, immovable nature perfectly harnesses her maverick employer. It is the best I have seen Winslet for many years. Although the likes of Rogen, Daniels, Waterston and Stuhlbarg do not have the complexities of roles in the way Fassbender and Winslet have, their contributions are essential as their scenes with Fassbender are the lightning charges that power the film.
Steve Jobs should not have been this good, on paper making a film in this manner should not have worked. That said, Sorkin, Boyle, Fassbender et al are the types of names that could elevate the most uninspired, sub-par material to new heights, so working from the basis of something this different, they are able to produce a film as genuinely brilliant as this one.