David L. Garcia
I fell head over heels in love with “Steve Jobs.” It is a rare, wonderful thing: a biopic that manages to soar because of poignant and truly creative storytelling.
The film, based on the best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson, takes place backstage at three landmark product launches over the course of nearly two decades: in 1984, for the Macintosh; in 1986, for the NeXT Computer; and in 1998, for the iMac. We follow Jobs around as he grapples with his personal and business relationships, all while cavorting backstage and preparing for his highly anticipated presentations. We see him forcing his engineers to fix technical problems (by threatening to end their careers in front of an audience), trying to avoid (and later come to terms with) his relationship with his daughter Lisa, and exclaiming to all who will listen about how revolutionary both he and his innovations are.
The restrictions of the film’s format are staggering; the backstage experience, happening in real time, offers only three incredibly brief glimpses into the life of one of the most complex human beings of the modern era. And the fact that Jobs’ family, employees, and (often estranged) friends conveniently show up backstage just before Jobs’ presentations could be easily interpreted as a sad attempt to squeeze as much as possible into a two hour film.
In lesser hands, “Steve Jobs” would have collapsed from the start. I have to give primary credit to screenwriter extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin, possibly the greatest film writer working today. Sorkin’s brilliant idea to frame the film around the product launches was daring, but it perfectly reflects his style. He seems to be at his best when his characters are at work and under stress (watch “A Few Good Men” or pretty much any episode of “The West Wing” and you’ll see what I mean). The dialogue, full of Sorkin’s trademark rapid fire exchanges and whip-smart quips, is simply spectacular. This is Sorkin’s best screenplay since “The Social Network” and if the Academy Awards were next week, I’d happily present his second screenwriting Oscar.
Director Danny Boyle also deserves praise. He’s a gifted, film-making chameleon, who can tackle pretty much anything (from “Slumdog Millionaire” to “28 Days Later”) and make it visually arresting, and completely unique. “Steve Jobs” benefits from Boyle’s skill: the flow of backstage run-ins and the unique composition of establishing shots are as elegant as the newest iPhone.
Sorkin’s screenplay and Boyle’s direction are pitch perfect, and the acting is just as assured. Michael Fassbender is sure to earn some well-deserved praise for his lead role as Jobs, but his co-stars refuse to let him shoulder the film alone. Kate Winslet is marvelous as Apple marketing exec. Jobs’ exasperated confidante Joanna Hoffman, effortlessly balances the thick skin and emotional depth needed to play someone so close to the enigmatic Jobs. Seth Rogen is also charming as Jobs’ former friend and business partner Steve Wozniak, creator of the Apple I and II. Jobs’ dismissive treatment of his old friend is painful to watch, but is bolstered by Rogen’s dignified portrayal.
Films “based on a true story” are a dime a dozen; they’re usually Oscar bait designed to appeal to film snobs in the same way superhero movies appeal to 12-year-olds. “Steve Jobs” breaks this mold. It is based on real events, yes, but most viewers will be able to understand that the film is, at best, half-true (there’s no way Jobs was arguing with his daughter seconds before unveiling the iMac). Building such an organic story out of facts is a testament to Sorkin’s ability and Jobs’ lasting legacy. There’s also a pleasing lack of forced nostalgia: the film has few ironic references to the 1980’s, or jokes about how lame computers were just a few decades ago.
That’s what I love most about this film: it’s willingness to take chances and focus on emotional and personal connections rather than cheap nostalgia or name recognition. There’s something refreshing about a biopic that does its subject justice, not by sticking to the tired old tropes, but by taking risks and telling a unique, captivating story.
4.5 stars out of 5
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures