When iconic love-him-or-hate-him innovator Steve Jobs died at the end of 2011, public interest in the man was high. He was everywhere. And of course, Hollywood noticed this. Two films were announced about the tech giant. The first would be titled Jobs, would star Ashton Kutcher, and would be released in 2013. It came and went without much interest, and was critically panned – with 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is labelled a ‘over-sentimentalized made-for-TV biopic’. But then, there is the second film – Steve Jobs.
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Steve Jobs is a different beast altogether. While Steve Jobs is of course based upon the same man, it is a superior and disparate piece of work. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by the great Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs takes a slightly unorthodox approach to biographical filmmaking. While the aforementioned Jobs was a rather standard rags-to-riches life story, this film takes place in 3 real-time acts – each just before a product launch. We begin in 1984 as Steve (Michael Fassbender) prepares to launch the Mac. Then we jump ahead to 1988 for his NeXT computer launch, before finishing up in 1998 before the unveiling of the iMac. This unusual format works extremely well for the complex subject, giving a ‘painting’ of Jobs rather than a ‘photograph’, as writer Aaron Sorkin puts it.
With the film playing out like theatre, it simply must have good performances to survive. Thankfully, it delivers this in spades. Michael Fassbender brings his finest performance yet as the eponymous hero, demanding our attention for every minute he’s on screen – which is near enough the duration. Kate Winslet, nominated for several awards alongside Fassbender for her performance as Joanna Hoffman, is somewhat underwhelming in comparison. Maybe this is just because she’s in the shadow of a truly breathtaking lead, but there’s something about her here – mainly her shaky Polish accent - that doesn’t seem as good as the award academies evidently thought. Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterson more than make up for this with incredible supporting work that round off the cast with great aplomb.
But these performers can only shine with a strong script – and again, Steve Jobs gives us this. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue-stuffed screenplay feels like Shakespeare, making this a fine companion piece to Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth in which Michael Fassbender also starred. Each of the 40(ish) minute acts fly by in what feels like seconds thanks to this consistently engrossing writing. Flashbacks are scarcely used, with the majority of scenes consisting of Jobs talking (or arguing) with someone - don’t expect any specific, stand-out moment. The film’s scenes all blend into one real-time tale as we follow Jobs from room-to-room, armed with his quick wit and bitter disposition. Think Birdman, without the surrealism.
And this is where Danny Boyle comes in. His directing elevates Steve Jobs from great to f***ing brilliant. With cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, Boyle captures the three acts in three different formats. Our first act, taking place in 1984, is shot on 16mm film. The second, in 1988, is shot on 35mm. And the final 1998 act is shot on digital. With Daniel Pemberton’s adaptive score and Elliot Graham’s impeccable editing, this combination of visuals and sound alone perfectly represents the film’s three eras.
Steve Jobs has come into some shit for not being flawless in terms of accuracy, but Boyle and Sorkin say this was never their intention. This inaccuracy begins with Fassbender’s appearance. It’s no secret he doesn’t look a great deal like Jobs, but this was something that Boyle made clear was never important to him, stating "we were very clear right from the get-go that this wasn't about a physical impersonation at all”. And Sorkin has admitted that the film is only ‘loosely’ based on Walter Isaacson’s iconic authorized biography of Jobs. The film captures the essence and ‘the idea’ of Jobs, but it’s not a documentary. This isn’t an issue if you accept that going in. And hey, find me a ‘factual’ film with no inaccuracy in it. I dare you.
If you want the true, tell-all story of Jobs, watch Alex Gibney’s exhaustive documentary – The Man in the Machine. But if you want an engrossing character study rammed full of fantastic writing, phenomenal acting and superb directing…look no further. Steve Jobs is one of 2015’s best films, and easily one of the finest biopics in the history of cinema. iPerfect.
Love or hate his products, we can all agree that Steve Jobs is an incredible piece of cinema. 5/5.
Steve Jobs at CeX
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