The slogan for Apple is Think Different. This exactly what Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin have done. There have been more than enough books and documentaries about the life of Steve Jobs, so they had to come up with something new.
What they came up with isn’t new, it’s Shakespearean, with a modern twist - a three act drama, niftily set, almost entirely in three theatres. Each act takes place behind the scenes of a product launch - the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and finally the iMac in 1998. It’s essentially three extended scenes punctuated with flashbacks, following the same format.
You see the rise, fall and redemption of Jobs in these three time periods, each identified with the use of a different camera, film and score as if to echo Jobs’ minute attention to detail. By choosing these time frames, before the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Sorkin’s script allows us to see a time when Steve Jobs thought he was a God, or knew he was going to be for millions of people, but still had to convince everyone around him.
The film opens with Jobs berating his chief engineer because the Macintosh can’t say ‘Hello’. ‘You had three weeks.. the universe was created in a third of that time,’ he yells at Hertzfeld. ‘Well, Steve, one day you’ll have to tell us how you did it!’ But this not a game of equals. If Jobs is not yet a God, he is at least a king and the king doesn’t take kindly to being disappointed. Jobs’ loyal followers include Steve Wozniak, who despite creating Apple with Jobs, has seen himself fade into the background and has to request meetings with the man who should be his partner. The contrast of the skittish Seth Rogen and the smarmy Michael Fassbender is a remarkable piece of casting and Rogen breaks out of his childish comedy roots to deliver a truly touching performance as a man who is so invested in a world for which Jobs is little more than an overpowering figurehead, that even his parting shot at Jobs is rooted in tech speak.
Kate Winslet is subtly strong as Joanna Hoffman, a woman who tempers Jobs so that he is not wholly insufferable. Indeed, Jobs is at his most cutting when Joanna is not in the room. It is Hoffman who is the catalyst for the relationship between Jobs and his daughter Lisa. Boyle allows the relationship between Jobs and Lisa to gradually expand over time and uses it to show the deepest flaws in Jobs’ character.
As Lisa’s mother Chrisann, Katherine Waterston is shrill and damaged enough to underline Jobs’ ability to manipulate people around him. At first denying paternity and then skirting around the issue of whether she was named after a computer or vice versa, it seems as if Jobs keeps her and her mother around to serve his God complex because they are completely dependent on him. Jobs seems unwilling to allow Lisa to achieve anything on her own. She was given a place at a school, he claims, merely because he donated a building. Later, as a college dropout, fearing that he may be losing his grip on a child he initially rejected, he refuses to pay her college tuition for the most illogical of reasons, thus personifying the end to end control that he has always demanded from his life and work.
Like Fassbender and Rogen, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin might not seem like the most obvious fit but Sorkin’s quick fire script and signature walk and talk mean that Boyle’s direction has to take a backseat. Like Jobs, he ‘[plays] the orchestra’ and his cast and crew are finely tuned. Where the film could have erred too far into melodrama - the rainstorm during the Apple board meeting - he tones everything else down so that while you understand the drama of the situation you don’t need to be hit over the head with it.
The structure of the film is exciting, the camerawork is soft and sharp, the cast is an unexpected delight and you almost forget that you’re watching a film about computers. This is not your average biopic and to paraphrase Jobs, ‘You don’t know what you’re looking at, you don’t know why you like it, but you don’t want it to end.’
Steve Jobs is now showing at FACT. Click to book tickets.