One thing that the Danny Boyd biopic Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin, is not is flattering to the man who revolutionised the personal computing world. The much-awaited film paints a complex picture of the enigmatic Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender), one of the most iconic figures of the 21st century, as equal parts genius and tyrant.
Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern-day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given. The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny. Besides the physical similarities, his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scenes, and you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone.
Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs's understanding yet exasperated "work wife" does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. (I'm willing to bet that she wins at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at The Oscars. She is that good.) Jeff Daniels as John Scully, the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power-packed performance as well.
"I think the portrayal of a brilliant but arrogant man is a service to accuracy, even if Steve Jobs himself might have baulked at it."
But the real star of the movie is scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin's work this movie is jam-packed with Sorkinisms, a term that has been used to describe self-plagiarism as well as a propensity for characters to talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects in a way that somehow comes across as profound - here I'm using it in the latter sense of the word. Yes, many dislike this aspect of Sorkin's writing but I love it. It makes for an edge-of-seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom.
Sorkin has written this movie in three acts. The first one is at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of Time magazine, his refusal to accept his daughter, and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2, a machine he deems anachronistic and unworthy of his time. His relationship with Scully in this part of the movie has shades of a father-son dynamic, where Jobs looks up to Scully.
Act two is after Jobs has been fired from Apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronises Woz while there is still that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully, though, has changed -- we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from Apple. This is 1988.
Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to rein in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about. Finally, we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again. This time, Woz has the last word, and it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.
"This is exceptional film-making -- Sorkin and Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time."
Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the storytelling, which is something that is usually missing from a biopic. They masterfully weave details and nuggets about Jobs's life and career into the narrative, including the fact that he was a vegan and the story behind the Apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing. The final scene, where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her that he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn't have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player, hints at the genesis of the iPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.
Daniel Pemberton's understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never overpower the scenes. Alwin H Kuchler as the director of photography brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna -- hurried and frenetic yet with a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki's work on The Birdman -- the camera follows Jobs through various corridors and rooms as he meets with and talks to the different characters. I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does do justice to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah and instead focuses too much on his flaws. However, I think the portrayal of a brilliant but arrogant man is a service to accuracy, even if Steve Jobs himself might have baulked at it. This is exceptional film-making -- Sorkin and Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time.