Directed by Danny Boyle Written by Aaron Sorkin Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels
Film review by Hannah Sayer
To finally witness a biopic about the “genius” Steve Jobs that is a success is somewhat of a relief. The screenplay adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography by Aaron Sorkin has been shrouded since its conception by preproduction issues. With David Fincher being the first to step down from the project, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale were also for a time signed on to star, to later be replaced by Danny Boyle to direct and, surprisingly, Irish actor Michael Fassbender. The realisation that this production was fraught with drama came to light during the 2014 Sony hack. Sony eventually decided to drop the project, where it was picked up by Universal Pictures, the company behind this year’s highest grossing film, Jurassic World. With so many exits of the project, many wondered whether this would be a tragic attempt to imitate Fincher and Sorkin’s critical acclaim with The Social Network, a similar story with a dislikeable technological game-changer as the focus. This adds to the overwhelming amount of concern for the project even before the mentioning of the failure that was Jobs, the 2011 film starring Ashton Kutcher, which got universally slated by the critics. There is no doubt about it that Danny Boyle is certainly a brave director to take on such a highly observed and criticised figure, as well as a film with such prior problems. However, his final outcome and the performances which comprise it are what constitute to making Steve Jobs an intricate and compelling triumph.
Divided into three acts between 1984 and 1998, the film is set behind-the-scenes in the countdown before three looming product launches. The three acts are distinguished by the way they are filmed; from 16mm to 35mm to digital. This is clever in illustrating Apple’s technological advancements across the years depicted of Jobs’ life. The first act focuses on the minutes prior to the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, where we are introduced to Fassbender’s Jobs and Joanna Hoffman, the marketing executive for Apple, played by Kate Winslet. Minutes before the Macintosh’s launch, Jobs is facing crisis as he needs the computer to say ‘hello’ in order to seem friendly and inviting; ironically, this is the opposite of how Jobs is portrayed, as he threatens to publicly humiliate engineer Andy Hertzfeld, portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg, if he is unable to fix it on time. Sorkin’s quick and witty dialogue driven screenplay is especially successful and shines through during this confrontation:
Andy Hertzfeld: “We're not a pit crew at Daytona. This can't be fixed in seconds.”
Steve Jobs: “You didn't have seconds. You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time.”
Andy Hertzfeld: “Well, someday, you'll have to tell us how you did it.”
Jobs’ relationships with his co-workers is addressed throughout the three acts, especially with Steve Wozniak, co-founder and one of Jobs’ only supporters, played in a surprisingly dramatic turn by Seth Rogen. Boyle’s decision to focus on Jobs’ interaction with others, especially with his daughter, and how this develops throughout the course of the film, is one of the ways in which this is not just a biopic, but a relatable drama. Instantly, by denying his paternity, Jobs is portrayed as an unlikeable figure. By having the account of this father-daughter relationship with Lisa running parallel alongside the three product launches, the audience is witness to a masterpiece of a character study; as he ages and develops over the three acts, his professional and private life begins to merge and Lisa becomes an integral part of the picture. Even though each act has a similar, repeated set up of a product launch and what happens as the characters wait in the wings with anticipation, there is something fresh and new about each act. The time jumps forward from 1984 to 1988, where Jobs no longer works for Apple but for NeXT, where he is preparing for the computer launch. Here Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, CEO of Apple at the time, shows his true skill at tackling Sorkin’s tricky dialogue, as previously confirmed in HBO’s The Newsroom. These two failed launches, however, work as effective build up to the final chapter, where in 1998 Steve Jobs has returned to Apple, where he is about to unveil the iMac. There is a sense throughout of the incredible impact and scope the founder of Apple will have in the years to follow.
Much like Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg in Sorkin-penned The Social Network, Michael Fassbender has also received strong critical praise for his striking portrayal of Jobs, as he is becoming a frontrunner for this year’s Academy Awards. It wouldn’t be outlandish to express how this year truly has been the year for Michael Fassbender to truly excel. From critical darling Slow West to Shakespearean epic Macbeth, Fassbender has shown his range in conveying a range of characters; a Western bounty hunter, a troubled and paranoid ruler of Scotland and now the iconic founder of Apple. By choosing to tell the tale of Steve Jobs in a three act cycle and with Aaron Sorkin’s script being purely dialogue driven, the film does evoke qualities of a Shakespearean tragedy. Michael Fassbender’s development of the troubled “genius” is similar to his brilliant portrayal of Macbeth; both performances focus on the riveting and chaotic mind of the subjects.
By choosing to focus on the earlier stages of Jobs’ life, before the launch of his more recent successes of the iPod and the iPhone, Danny Boyle tells a tale of a technological icon that is often overshadowed. His behind-the-scenes take could have been boring and repetitive, but the challenging and intense script allows for heightened emotions to take centre stage, drawing similar comparisons to last year’s successful Birdman. Cleanly cut and edited with scenes of loud and bright montages which reflect the frenetic mind of the person in focus, Danny Boyle directs a mature and dynamic picture with bold performances. Steve Jobs’ presence as a powerful figure over his employees and the public he sells to is never questioned, and his presence is still felt today:
“Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.”
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