Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is the biopic about the late Apple founder we wanted. Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet gives a career-best performances.
The biopic is a very hard genre to do well. So often do films fall into the familiar formula of hard childhood, humble beginnings, major setback, and success. That’s what exactly went wrong with the Ashton Kutcher-led Jobs. There was no innovation behind the film, which is disappointing considering Jobs is arguably one of the most innovative entrepreneurs to have ever lived. He was also an incredibly complex man who was oversimplified in Kutcher’s portrayal and in the film itself. It became over-sentimental. However, a writer like Aaron Sorkin knows how to remove the self-importance of a story and just allow the characters to affect the storylines as much as the people involved.
What’s so refreshing about the movie is that it is so kinetic. Exposition and character building so often bog down biopics, but Steve Jobs thrives off of it. Under the direction of Danny Boyle, the film moves at lightning speed. It helps that Aaron Sorkin loves the walk and talk because it really keeps the film moving. No matter what the characters are talking about there is some movement. Whether they are walking or throwing papers or fiddling with computers, we are always moving.
Cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler and Boyle used this to their advantage by focusing your attention to what is more important. When the film is dynamic you are getting exposition or the plot is moving forward, but when we stop you pay attention more because what is being delivered is important to either the character or story.
However, one of the most important choices that really made this film come alive was the decision to present the story in a three-act structure, each of which took place at three product launches in Jobs’ career: the Apple Macintosh, NeXT computer, and iMac. We know Jobs from these events. Up until the year he died we associated him with the black long-sleeve shirt, jeans, holding a clicker presenting the next Apple innovation. However, instead of focusing on the launch itself, the movie turned its attention to the time before the event. That’s where the story takes place. The movie took what was familiar about Jobs and gave us a behind-the-scenes look while also giving us an idea of him as a person.
Steve Jobs becomes even more impressive when you dig into the details of the production. Because of the three-act structure that really felt like a play, it was filmed in chronological order, which is already a feat in itself. It was also filmed in the actual theaters where the launches were held with people that attended them. It added to the energy of the already frenetic production.
The three-act structure was bolstered with the decision to film each act in the aspect ratio of the time, giving it an authentic vintage feel. The 1986 intro was particularly fun with its blast of colors that remind us of the ever hopeless style of the 80s and approaching 90s. Despite the time period, it never feels like a period film. The topic is very much alive. Whether it’s because Jobs’ death was so recent or because Danny Boyle took note to make the film feel important doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel a part of what is happening in the film. You feel Jobs’ urgency and that what he’s doing is important. Maybe you don’t realize it on a technical level, but on an emotional one you know that he cares. His genius is confusing, even to those people in the film, but you understand it because Sorkin wants you to understand it.
Sorkin’s screenplay, as I’ve mentioned, is the lifeblood of Steve Jobs.It is truly electric to hear the actors spitting our dialogue a mile a minute without wavering. It’s elevated by the fact that the script doesn’t worry itself with characters’ motivations or emotional attachments. The dialogue tells the story, but the characters’ actions tell the heart. Instead of Jobs explaining why it is so important to break fire code and turn off the exit signs in the theater, his cantor and tone is what tells how important it is.
What bogs down biopics so often is the fact that they include the information that doesn’t matter. Despite the huge amount of dialogue in the film, Sorkin only leaves the most important information. A major plot line of the movie is Jobs’ illegitimate daughter, who at the start he denies is his. Where most biopics would give all the backstory on when he met the mother and how he found out about his daughter, the movie skips all that and throws you straight into the action seamlessly.
That’s also why Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs is so incredible. He has proven time and time again his commitment to a role, however his career best comes in Steve Jobs. He’s so graceful in his portrayal of Jobs, but never for a moment feels as if he’s acting.
While Fassbender really contributes as much to the success to the film as Boyle and Sorkin, the true heart lies in Kate Winslet who gives what I consider the best performance of her career. She transforms into her role both physically, vocally, and emotionally. Joanna Hoffman, Apple and NeXT’s marketing director, is arguably the only person Jobs will give in to. She grounds him with reason and reminds him that other people have feelings. When he sees people, who have IQs at genius levels, as idiots, she reminds them that they don’t have the confidence he does. She reminds him that not everything is based in numbers. If Jobs is the head of Apple, then Hoffman is the heart.
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Steve Jobs is a film that I could watch over and over and still catch things I never saw the first time. From camera angles to staging, it’s a film that speaks on so many levels. It proves that style and substance aren’t mutually exclusive, they can live together in a film successfully. If you’re looking to get a “this happened, then this happened” telling of Steve Jobs’ life, then this isn’t the film you’ve been looking for. But if you want to watch a story about a complicated man who wanted to change the world, then Steve Jobs will meet and exceed your expectations.