The Vision Thing
There’s always been a freshness and youthful vitality to Danny Boyle’s filmmaking, so it’s appropriate that he’s partnered here with the wit and dynamism of writer Aaron Sorkin to produce a portrait of a man associated with the cutting edge. Steve Jobs honours the late Apple founder’s commitment to design by being a beautifully engineered movie, from the pin-sharp dialogue to the tripartite structure, building the parallel stories of Jobs’ tussles with his staff and the Apple board, and his strained relationship with his ex-girlfriend and daughter, around three product launches – each in turn showcasing Jobs’ idealism, control freakery and arrogance. The film’s a monument to single-mindedness and self-belief, a screwball comedy without the jokes (though there are terrific one-liners) that’s improved by being a movie without extraneous sentiment, melodrama or biological detritus.
Any biopic, even a truncated one like this, lives or dies on how successful it is in building its subject, and here Steve Jobs benefits from a shrewd and psychoanalytic treatment that binds his creative achievements and the war of attrition fought with friends and family, with a many splintered psyche. Jobs, as imagined by Sorkin and a penetrating Michael Fassbender, is a closed system like his Macs: a man who cannot or will not engage with other people’s agendas, points of view, feelings and ideas. “Think Different” isn’t just a slogan, it’s his grammatically dubious mantra.
This, the movie suggests, is one definition of genius, though the script’s smart enough to include Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak, as a counterpoint to both Jobs’ outlook and philosophy. He’s no less gifted, maybe, but shorn of the egomania, monolithic self-belief, God complex and thirst for dominance, he’s at a loss to understand why Apple’s visionary can’t improve his human credentials – a sentiment shared by everyone from Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman to Michael Stuhlbarg’s Andy Hertzfeld.
In a series of lacerating and memorable exchanges, the best of which is a phenomenal argument between Jobs and his former CEO, Jeff Daniels, playing one time Pepsi frontman, John Sculley, the movie explores why the man so keen to invent the future has no emotional or intellectual purchase on the past. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, the man who can build machines but can’t build relationships, etc, but the strength of Steve Jobs is that once it’s over you feel you both know the man and understand what drove him. It may be fiction, or maybe touched by fact, but the portrait is impastoed, regardless.
If the movie has a flaw it’s the conspicuous nature of its manufacture. It’s a sleek and self-consciously constructed vehicle for delivering Sorkin’s notes on Jobs’ character. The dynamic direction, perfectly judged score from Daniel Pemberton and clever clipped dialogue makes for a narrative machine as divorced from life’s mundanities and realism as Jobs’ computers were from analogue ways of learning. An unconventional biopic for an unconventional man, then – but one the maestro would surely have recognized as thematically and ontologically authentic.