As a huge admirer of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin‘s use of the written word in cinema, I’ve come to accept that most filmmakers (with the exception of David Fincher in The Social Network) don’t attempt to marry a visual style to his dialogue, instead just trying to keep up. Well, now Danny Boyle has come along and made a near masterpiece in the biopic Steve Jobs by not only keeping up with Sorkin’s script, but by enhancing it with energetic, fluid, and hypnotic direction. In many ways, this is a cinematic symphony, perfectly conducted by Boyle and Sorkin. Not only that, but they’ve rewritten the rules of the biopic, especially in terms of structure. The duo go a step further from focusing on an important moment in their difficult protagonist’s life as opposed to a broad strokes lifelong look and frame the man through three individual product presentations. Furthermore, this is, as much as anything, a look at how we compensate as human beings for our flaws and shortcomings, no matter how much of a genius we may be. It sounds unusual, yes, and initially it feels that, but before long it just starts to work in a brilliant way. The same goes for the casting of Michael Fassbender in the title role. Everything comes together like a wonderful orchestra, with the end result being one of my absolute favorite films of the year so far. 2015 has had some interesting Oscar contenders so far, but this is probably the most purely entertaining movie with awards aspirations. Steve Jobs is a biopic for the ages folks.
If you’re looking for a bullet point type biopic of the computer innovator, this won’t be it. Instead, this presents three long sequences from different points in the career of Steve Jobs (Fassbender), helping to illustrate a bit about this hard to like genius. In many ways, as we see Jobs during the launch of the Macintosh at Apple in 1984, the disastrous debut of his competing NeXT machine in 1988 after leaving Apple, and the iconic iMac in 1998 after his triumphant return to the company, he’s given the A Christmas Carol/Scrooge treatment. Essentially, he’s visited by ghosts of his past, present, and future, with the past being engineer and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), present being Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and future being his daughter Lisa at different points in her life. There’s also long suffering assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), put upon minion Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the mother of Lisa who Jobs initially fights in regard to paternity. Initially, it’s hard to see what the larger points are supposed to be here, but especially when Jobs’ relationship with Wozniak and his daughter become bigger focuses, you start to understand where it’s going. If the plot sounds almost play like in nature, you’re not far off. It’s the dialogue and the direction that helps set this apart.
It’s hard to find a better ensemble so far this year than the one on hand here. Led by Michael Fassbender in the title role, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Fassbender doesn’t look like Jobs, but you won’t care after a few scenes. He’s so good and intense in the role, unafraid to let Jobs be unlikable and an egomaniac, it allows for the full vision of Sorkin’s script to come through. There’s layers to this performance, which only are fully visible by the time the credits roll. A Best Actor nomination is all but guaranteed, and he won’t be alone in being cited for this flick. Both Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet are excellent as well in supporting performances that could be remembered by the Academy. Rogen does his best dramatic work to date, standing toe to toe with Fassbender, especially in one scene where he makes a John vs Ringo comparison that cuts to the core of why these two are at a crossroads in their relationship. As for Winslet, she’s in some ways playing what would otherwise be a wife-type role, but infusing it with strength and personality. Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlbarg also turn in very good supporting turns, each having confrontations with Fassbender that allow everyone to shine. In addition to the aforementioned Katherine Waterston (who’s a bit on the underused side), the rest of the ensemble includes Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss, John Ortiz, Sarah Snook, Ripley Sobo, and more. If you’re looking for an MVP though, it’s definitely Fassbender.
Though perhaps less quotable than some of his other works, Aaron Sorkin is still at the top of his game here and could certainly be looking at another Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He took Walter Isaacson‘s highly regarded biography of Jobs and elevates it to the level of poetry at times. If you hate Sorkin’s language, you might struggle with it, but as a fan, I was all in and even pleasantly surprised by how on point he is. Of course, Danny Boyle and his team is making this material soar as well. Boyle’s cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, composer Daniel Pemberton, and editor Elliot Graham all help to craft this into something very unique. Like I mentioned above, it’s rare to see a team try and keep up with Sorkin, which is why so many of his works involve a ton of walk and talk scenes, but Boyle is up to the challenge in Steve Jobs and I salute him for that. He may very well have a Best Director and Best Picture nomination coming his way as a reward.
I could go on and on about how much I loved Steve Jobs, especially since I was indifferent to this story beforehand, but I’m eager for you all to discover this one for yourselves. Filled with tremendous sequences of verbal repartee, amazing performances, sumptuous direction, and a screenplay that’s just above and beyond, it’s a wonder to behold. A shade over two hours passes in a heartbeat, buoyed by all of the qualities mentioned above. Oscar will likely embrace this one in a big way, but regardless of what the Academy and its voters do, this is a must see and definitely one of the year’s best. I can’t imagine my year end Top Ten list won’t have it on it (and high up there too), and that’s saying something. Steve Jobs is a brilliant portrait of a brilliant man, uncompromising and entertaining in equal measure…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!