Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs depicts the life of the computer innovator through three separate product launches, all depictions taking place seemingly moments before the show is set to begin.
When we first see Jobs (Michael Fassbender), it is with immediacy. Immediately frustrated. Immediately aggressive. Immediately demanding. All of this surrounding a simple issue: getting a computer to say “Hello.” The camera centers on Fassbender throughout the scene, spiraling around just to keep his frantically moving body in frame.
Aaron Sorkin’s script is instantly felt on the lips of the characters. Rambling and rambling. Pause on a well-placed quip. Then back to rambling and rambling. Quick diversion to Stravinsky. Back to rambling. If this sort of cadence was right for any figure, it would be Jobs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound as magical tumbling off of other character’s tongues.
Jobs is portrayed as cold. When his child, the child he denies being father to, says that Jobs named a computer after her, Jobs dodges by explaining through gritted teeth what a coincidence is, particularly what the coincidence of two things having the same name is. There’s no gray area with the Steve Jobs Steve Jobs. He is brutish with a millimeter-long fuse.
The comedy of errors in this first scene alone is enthralling. But it is comedy at the expense of humanity. Fassbender has the fire. Oh boy, does he have the fire. But was Jobs really fire to the brim? Seemingly, no. At least not to the extent of sociopathy.
The thesis of Steve Jobs centers on a Bob Dylan verse, the folk singer being a major influence on the actual Jobs. The times they are a-changing, to put it simply. Control slips away as the world churns on around you. It is the supreme existential crisis, and, although he would be too proud to admit it, it was Jobs’ driving force. Strangely, we can see this fear in Fassbender’s full-on embodiment of this pride.
Boyle is a dynamic director. None of his films are quite like the others. In the case of this film, he creates an epic scale by cutting back and forth between a climbing stack of conflicts and characters. The camera swivels and cuts fast, unless it is honed in on a close-up of the man himself.
These camera techniques are exciting. However, the same tactics that pull your attention in are the same tactics that burden the film as it progresses. The highly mobile camera becomes tiresome. The Sorkin script, as is often the case, is over-choreographed; too calculated; the words too on point.
The ensemble cast surrounding the consistently mesmerizing Fassbender is sound, if not merely a ripple in the earthquake that is Fassbender’s Jobs. Seth Rogen is an effectively bumbling Steve Wozniak, and he even makes it work in the more dramatic moments. One altercation between Jobs and Woz late in the film is remarkable, and Rogen holds his own against the explosiveness of Fassbender.
Kate Winslet gets sucked into the quagmire that is Sorkin’s verbosity, her lines becoming echoed responses to Fassbender’s driving calls. She also sports a questionable accent that shifts drastically when she needs to turn on the emotion.
Katherine Waterston’s up-and-coming talent is squandered by an emotionally single-serving character who only appears when it is necessary to add another layer of conflict for Jobs to swim through.
Sorkin veteran Jeff Daniels holds the reigns of his portion of the script with finesse, but his character is a means to the end of progressing the plot. Even when it appears that the script is giving the character more, and thus Daniels more to work with, it is simply another notch on the belt of Jobs’ life that had to be conveyed to the audience in one way or another.
The use of cross-cutting between past and present conversations with Jobs on similar topics add layers that are fun to peel away. It also is one of the few chances that we get to break away from the hectic nature of the product launches. However, all of the conversations escalate to the same conclusion: Jobs is so high on his own wood-and-wax wings that he is in danger of letting his hubris destroy him.
Here’s one thing: Steve Jobs paces perfectly. But it does this by sacrificing realism and true substance for cinematic lavishness. It has more pomp and circumstance than the 2013 incarnation of the Jobs biopic, but Steve Jobs loses itself in its own flair. Its attempt at a nuanced Jobs is a muddled conglomeration of flat metaphors. Fassbender holds the charisma throughout, to viewer delight, and the relationship developed between Jobs and his daughter is endearing. However, the electricity of Fassbender isn’t enough to steer a ship of this size.
Michael Fassbender’s performance is clearly the highlight of the entire film. And the production value behind it is evident. Steve Jobs just lacks the substance that a film about Steve Jobs warrants. Look at the Alex Gibney documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, for example. It encapsulates the essence of the enigmatic man fully, objectively, and in an open-ended fashion. Perhaps, due to the power of the figure in reality, the best medium for paying homage to Jobs is non-fiction.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Steve Jobs? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)