Danny Boyle’s riveting and unconventional biopic Steve Jobs is a complete knock-out from start to finish, and as bracingly un-Hollywood as this sort of material is going to get. This is laser-precise filmmaking, acted with extreme gusto, written with absurd skill, and shot and cut in a manner that suggests erudite style without ever feeling ostentatious.
Aaron Sorkin’s classic rat-a-tat-tat dialogue is on full display from the opening scene, never relenting for two crisp and clean hours of storytelling; it’s an audacious screenplay in terms of structure, and overall, the film feels like a concert or a three act play, with maestro Boyle handling the glorious conducting. Some people are going to say that the film has been designed to never have any payoff – this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that Boyle and Sorkin upend our expectations (especially for the genre) and give us something we haven’t seen before. By framing the picture in three acts and showing the final 40 minutes leading up to three iconic product launches — the original Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in ’90, and the iMac in ’98 – there’s a purposefully restrictive quality to the storytelling and filmmaking that might have been detrimental to the overall finished product had the endeavor not been in control by shrewdly talented filmmakers.
The hectic, emotionally turbulent, sometimes painful, and always awkward interactions that Jobs had with his creative/business team and family members make up the bulk of the picture, with a remarkable supporting cast all getting their chance to shine (Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, and Jeff Daniels are all fantastic). But it’s the Michael Fassbender show all the way, with this marvelous actor appearing in almost every single scene, giving a tour de force performance as a man driven to greatness by something I’m not sure he could ever fully explain or understand. Alwin Kuchler‘s intensely stylish yet never ostentatious cinematography still gets to show off some trademark Boyle visual flourishes (Dutch angles, sped-up film speeds, saturated color, projected images that give off a trippy vibe), but this is a decidedly tamped down Boyle in comparison to his Tony Scott-esque aesthetics that were on display in Slumdog Millionaire, Trance, and 127 Hours. The decision to shoot each act in a different medium (16mm for Macintosh, 35mm for NeXT, high-def digital for iMac) is nothing less than a sensational aesthetic conceit which heightens the already slightly surreal quality to the narrative.
And most crucially, the filmmakers, never at any point, try to soften their lead character’s dick-ish-ness, and it must be said that Fassbender is absolutely remarkable as Jobs, crafting a portrait of extremely flawed yet obscenely brilliant human being who likely learned too late (if this film is to be believed) in life that sometimes you should be a bit nicer to others. You sort of have to wonder why so many people stuck with him for so long, to go off what’s presented in this film. Yes, he was a genius, a true iconoclast who revolutionized the world we currently inhabit. But he did so at an intense personal cost to his own personal well-being, creating just as many enemies as friends, with many people likely realizing that they had no choice but to stick it out with working for Jobs, because no matter how egomaniacal he was, you could pretty much bet that he’d come out on top at the end. And make no mistake about it – the line of the year so far is: “I’m poorly made.” This is a film that I’m already jazzed to revisit, and it represents everything I want to see in a film.
Review by Nick Clement