An insanely engrossing, beautifully detailed character study, but one which suffers from its two creative leaders' warring tones.
The long awaited Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin team-up biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs finally reaches screens this awards-season, after a rocky road to production, just in time to likely sweep up every last gong in sight, and deservedly so.
It feels a little redundant to go back over exactly who the man of the title is, but rest assured, Boyle and Sorkin’s film takes a slightly different stab at the source material – certainly a far cry from the rushed, Ashton Kutcher-starring mess that was 2013’s Jobs. 2015’s Steve Jobs (some seriously dynamic titling right there) instead charts the career and character of the famed computer craftsman (Michael Fassbender) over the course of three separate mornings in 1984, 1988 and 1998, at the product launch for each of Jobs’ most defining creations – although apparently the iPod didn’t quite make the cut.
It’s a bit of a strange set-up, especially for a film that looks to build a definitive image of arguably one of the 21st century’s most important figures, but for the most part it’s one that works tremendously. In fact, the film’s 80s-set opening, with Jobs at the height of his enthusiasm, is quite possibly one of the year’s best sequences; an honest triumph of script, direction and acting which mould together to form a perfectly engrossing introduction to the world Sorkin and Boyle have created together.
It seems important to name-check both parties since this very clearly has both of the Oscar-winners’ fingerprints all over it. Sorkin’s trademark quick-witted dialogue returns as expected, helping to push a Jobs that’s intensely wrapped-up inside his own robotic brain, whilst Boyle’s more emotional framing of the events helps us to, very simply, actually care. For the most part, these two creative forces work in an invisible tandem with one another, but occasionally things begin to slip. Because as defining as each of the pair are in their own right, they both stand at very much opposite ends of the spectrum.
As slick and wickedly funny as Sorkin’s words may be, they too often come across as cold and callous, working through the classic Sorkin formula we’ve seen before in all of his notable works: analogy upon analogy spoken at what often borders on the speed of light. One sequence – almost directly in the centre of the film – feels insanely busy, ramping up far too much momentum and thus resulting in something significantly more garbled than needed. Even dialogue aside, Sorkin’s set-up is neatly devised and again, does an incredible job overall, separating this biopic from the thousands of others in existence rather cleverly, but again there’s too much of a formula to it. By the time the third launch has finally ticked around, we know the game and the players, and it’s simply a matter of watching Jobs go through those same – now rather tired – motions all over again.
When he can, Boyle does manage to wrestle some sense of heart into the proceedings however, leaning similarly on his own past works to make certain elements of the film, particularly those encircling Jobs’s family life, rather emotional. But as with Sorkin, this frequently comes out of balance and at times, comes across as far too sentimental and sappy. It’s almost as if the pair are battling for tonal control throughout, with some sequences nailing Sorkin’s style, and others Boyle’s, whilst the leftovers seem to meet some accidental extreme one way or the other. When the two do work together, Steve Jobs transcends almost every other film on the awards-season slate in terms of quality, it’s just that they very rarely do.
An element of the film that works no matter the tone however is its vast and varied acting talent; namely Fassbender’s central performance. Sorkin alumni Jeff Daniels pops up occasionally and registers his talent, whilst an always-on-form Kate Winslet dominates and an out-of-sorts Seth Rogen manages to even show off some dramatic prowess of his own, after hiding away in stoner roles for far too long. All of these simply pale in comparison to Fassbender’s Jobs however; an incredibly intricate and ultimately, very powerful portrayal that invests just as much in emotional repression as it does in flawless delivery. There are certainly parallels between Jobs and Sorkin’s previous muse, The Social Network’s Mark Zuckerberg, but here instead of simply delivering the standard disconnected genius type, Fassbender adds even more layers, making it clear that there does exist a beating heart somewhere inside Jobs’ robotic outer-shell, and only ever teasing it at the perfect moments. It’s quite possibly the actor’s most detailed role to date, and certainly gives him more than enough pulling power in the eventual Oscar-race.
On the whole though, as uneven as Boyle and Sorkin’s biopic frequently becomes, there is no arguing about how thoroughly entertaining and really quite enthralling it is overall. After all, if anything there’s an abundance of great stuff here, and as jumbled as it sometimes becomes, it’s better that there’s too much of it as opposed to too little. Steve Jobs is frustratingly close to brilliance, but even though it just misses the mark, there is still plenty to be celebrated here.
Steve Jobs (2015), directed by Danny Boyle, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.