Enough has been written, said and filmed about Steve Jobs since his death to fill several iPhones (even the 128gb ones). Trust Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, then, to find a new approach to the enigma of the Apple empresario, this time portrayed by the ample talents of Michael Fassbender.
Using a tripartite structure, we see Jobs in the 40 minutes or so before three different product launches – of the Apple Macintosh in ’84, the NeXT Computer in ’88 and the iMac in ’98. In each section he speaks with the same people, including his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, main confidant Joanna Hoffman, Apple CEO John Sculley and, reluctantly, his former partner Chrisann Brennan and their child Lisa. His concerns range from the grand – challenging the IBM market dominance – to the seemingly insignificant – turning off the EXIT signs to achieve complete darkness. All, though, are conveyed with frenzy to his stressed colleagues, whom he treats with a mixture of exaggerated charm and utter disdain.
This is not a narrative-led piece – the plot points of Jobs’ life are so familiar to many in a modern audience (not just because of Ashton Kutcher’s attempt) that it would be unwise to rehash them. Instead it is like the large drawing Neil Buchanan used to do at the end of Art Attack, but with added narcissism. Jobs begins the film as an enigma, but through each piece of conversation we get a fuller picture of a brilliant, cruel and troubled man.
Steve Jobs is very much a Sorkin film; there is a lot here we’ve seen before. Snappy conversations between people walking along corridors; men with cartoonish superiority complexes; and dialogue you could set your watch to. What separates it from his other output is Fassbender’s storming performance. As versatile as he is talented, Fassbender makes no attempts at conveying a likeable Jobs – even his humour is bristling with threat – and instead makes a believable one. Awful as he is, he seems like a real human, and not the celebrity impressions we get in other biopics (*cough* The Iron Lady). Where Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg was competing with handsome chaps Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake, Fassbender largely has the screen to himself, with the supporting characters defined entirely by their relationship to him and how they act around him.
The influence of Danny Boyle is felt far less strongly – it is only in a rousing, flash-heavy sequence near the end that it achieves anything like the verve found in Trainspotting or Slumdog. This might account for the underperformance of the film at the US box office; while it is certainly a good film, it is by no means a commercial one, or one that portrays a Jobs the audience wants to see. Don’t be put off by this though; for a two-hour film consisting solely of conversations, it is impressively gripping to the last.
Co-founder Steve Wozniak, nicely underplayed by Seth Rogen, pointedly asks his colleague ‘What do you do?’ The impression is that Jobs never slowed down enough to allow people to work this out. His main input into Apple was sheer impetus. Boyle’s film is much the same; it is fast enough for us not to see its flaws, even if Jobs’ own are in high definition.