The conceit of the “greatest hits” biopic has been dying out in recent years. Besides a certain predictability and generic result with even the most well-intentioned of them, we as audiences are becoming more comfortable with less strict adherence to accuracy and are asking for a more insightful connection to the figure depicted and to our cultural relationship to that figure. Steve Jobs, while populated with accurate details but wholely disinterested in strict factual depiction, is more of an impressionist experience in iconography.
Director Danny Boyle is no stranger to characters who see themselves as separate or outside of the flow, and the titular Jobs is a force pushing himself upstream against the current of other people’s limitations, as written by Aaron Sorkin. Expect verbal fireworks.
You won’t have to look very hard online to find opinions that Sorkin is steering the ship moreso than Boyle, and while I hate to be reacting to other reactions in the confines of a review, to this point I disagree entirely. Boyle’s natural inclination to a jagged, rhythmic electricity creates compliments the straight-forward, concise three-act structure Sorkin has written, giving us a more complicated and engaging portrait. This is a typical “white people talking in rooms” Sorkin exercise but you wouldn’t believe it while you’re in the thing. In fact, Boyle even breezes past some of the weaker elements in the writing, such as the overstuffing of unnecessary details – whole chapters of Walter Isaacson’s biography reduced to single bits of dialogue, shoved into sometimes random moments without context. Under Boyle’s molding, it becomes more big-canvas tapestry rather than eye-sore tidbits of fact in a film that’s not very interested in a factual representation of events.
Boyle as expected becomes unnecessarily sentimental at the climax, which the overall effect of Sorkin’s barbs and daggers dulls to extent and keeps it from going too far. It’s perhaps more appropriate that the writer/director relationship here is complimentary in that they can cover eachother’s weaknesses seemlessly.
Anyone looking for a factual representation of Jobs’s life is probably best directed to Isaacson, but the film is inherently true. Boyle has called the film a “portrait” rather than a biography, an adept classification as what’s really at play here is our perception of a man whose complications have been well documented. And what a portrait it is, especially given the man charged with embodying him.
Fassbender’s portrayal is difficult to discuss without reaching for hyperbole. At first, it seems just miraculous that he hasn’t drowned under the weight of unrelenting reams of dialogue, immediate shifts of tone and tension, and our collective impressions of an icon – a weight that could have devoured even his contemporaries that almost played the part (DiCaprio, Bale). This isn’t an artist merely keeping afloat, but a career-defining platform. Especially renowned for his partnership with Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave), and after collaborating with such masters as Andrea Arnold, Quintin Tarantino, and Cary Fukunaga, it’s this rapid-fire energy deep dive with Boyle that’s going to make him a household name beyond “the new Magneto”. It’s a degree-of-difficulty achievement, with the technical demands of the character giving Fassbender the rare opportunity to display his technical gifts, not just his usual soul-baring understanding his characters’ psyche. Get ready for Fassbender to seize his place at the top echelon of actors.
Circling around him is an equally adept and ready team of actors that go toe-to-toe with the vicious Fassbender. Kate Winslet, given more to do here than a host of female characters who support Great Men over the past decade, would perhaps be the film’s emotional core if Fassbender didn’t have total reign over all aspects. Her Joanna Hoffman symbiotically knows the ins-and-outs of the Jobs mind and she likewise has to get under the skin of her acting partner; they’re chemistry and reliance on one another as actors is one of the film’s many delights. Seth Rogen impactfully uses to his natural charm and affability as Steve Wozniak to drive his ultimate feelings of hurt and betrayal, hopefully changing perceptions about his acting capability in the process. Also at play are a barking, but touching Jeff Daniels and the always believable Michael Stuhlbarg.
Overall, you won’t be left with knowing very much at all about what Jobs accomplished or actually did, and why bother? The film is truly a rumination on how he achieved what he did in a social context and what kind of person can have this degree of social impact.