Film Discussion

Looking back at… Steve Jobs (2015)

The movie Steve Jobs, directed by David Fincher and starring Christian Bale, made it to the screen with very little in the way of a hitch… is something I will not be writing about, but if there is a parallel universe out there, then that version of the movie probably exists. Not here, but not for lack of trying.

Something of a “white whale” for Aaron Sorkin, the script for Steve Jobs, based on Walter Isaacson’s famed biographical novel, took what seemed forever to make it to the screen. Initially set to be produced at Sony, after they had considerable success with the Sorkin-scripted The Social Network, which proved to be a commercial and critical hit, not to mention award-winning, it looked as if Sorkin’s script for an eagerly awaited movie based on the life of one of the most famous personalities in the world would make it to the screen almost immediately.

Contractual disputes led to Fincher exiting the project, whilst Bale was cast, exited, cast again and then exited again. A number of A-list names were attached at certain times,  with Leonardo DiCaprio a frontrunner, but alas the film didn’t make any leeway in development until Danny Boyle came aboard, who then subsequently cast Michael Fassbender in the lead role, something of a controversial choice on Sorkin’s behalf, as evidenced during the infamous Sony e-mails hack.

Although the journey to the screen was fraught, the results were worth it in the end, at least critically. Scoring a plethora of five-star reviews from nearly every major critic, sadly the film floundered commercially, but creatively the film is another highlight, from both a screenwriting and a directorial point of view. The performances are absolutely terrific throughout and best of all Sorkin does not craft the movie like a conventional biopic.

Instead of going from A to B to C in terms of storytelling, instead each act of the movie takes place in a different year, with each section of the film taking place behind the scenes of a major launch by Jobs; the MacIntosh 128K in 1984, the NeXt in 1988 and finally the launch of the iMac in 1998.

Various other flashbacks to other events in between fill in the gaps and in terms of editing and presentation, the film is masterful, not least when John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and Jobs argue over the night when Jobs was ousted from the company, the argument going back and forward between the night of the board meeting when Jobs was fired and their argument in the present day.

The film is an intoxicating blend of character drama, and is filled with many of the witty, fast paced back and forward that one would expect from Sorkin, whilst Boyle brings the screenplay to glorious visual life in the manner that one would expect from the director of 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire.

Unlike The Social Network, which functioned as both character study and something of a thriller, given that it involved lawsuits and copious amounts of subtle betrayal, Steve Jobs is more character driven than plot driven, and that may have proven to be somewhat off-putting to audiences who wanted something a bit more conventional.

The film moves fast in every way and expects you to keep up with it, something that Sorkin’s script and Boyle’s direction is somewhat unforgivable about throughout. It demands your attention and expects you to be there with it every step of the way.

Given Sorkin’s career as a successful playwright, as well as a very successful Hollywood screenwriter, the film has a brilliant sense of the theatrical, which is deeply ironic since each act centres around Jobs on stage unveiling his latest works, but with presentations which are never shown on-screen, the film being more concerned with the drama behind the scenes as opposed to on the stage, but his script is massively dialogue heavy and instead of throwing buckets of incident into the drama, is just content to lay back and let the words and the actors do the work, almost more akin to a stage play.

It is cast to perfection. For all the controversy over Sorkin’s reaction to Fassbender, this is without a doubt a performance equal to those in Hunger and Shame; slick, suave but ignorant to the thoughts and feelings of those closest to him, he is the perfect combination of suave and douche, and yet he carries you with him throughout the film in a way that is hard to resist, no matter how much you despise him a little when he says or does something that is not very sympathetic. Kate Winslet as Joanna Huffman is, as always, fantastic, being a voice of reason and conscience to our lead character, keeping him grounded and trying to bring him back to humanity, while Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak shows there is more to him than his usual brand of infantile humour.

Best of all, unlike The Social Network, the film is inherently the more optimistic counterpart to the Facebook movie which left us with a lead character who got everything, but had nobody. Steve Jobs presents us with an equally fascinating but frequently flawed, sometimes very unlikable lead character, but one who learns from his mistakes and becomes a better person by the end.

In the pantheon of Sorkin works, it’s another masterful script, and like The Social Network it benefits from having a director who is capable of directing actors and crafting wonderful visuals bringing it to life. The words are brilliant, and visuals even more so.

It’ll put a thousand songs in your pocket.

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