Published on November 2nd, 2015 | by Padraic Coffey


Steve Jobs review: Danny Boyle directs, but this is Aaron Sorkin’s film

Alfred Hitchcock is often attributed with having said that the three main components for making a great film are script, script and script. Oddly, none of pictures Hitchcock directed after 1932 – which amount to the vast majority of his canon – were written by the man himself. Nonetheless, few would identify classics such as Rear Window, Vertigo or North by Northwest with their screenwriters in lieu of their director. With Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle, another British director who has found great success in the United States, pilots a screenplay from one of the eminent dramatic writers of his generation, Aaron Sorkin. Does Boyle, like Hitchcock, maintain a level of supremacy over the finished product, much like the real life Steve Jobs did over his?

The answer is no. Steve Jobs feels, first and foremost, like an Aaron Sorkin film. This, however, is not to discredit Boyle, but to recognise the strength of Sorkin’s screenplay, adapted from the lengthy 656 page biographical tome of the Apple magnate, written by Walter Isaacson and published less than three weeks after Jobs’ death. The film’s near-constant tête-à-têtes are positively breathless, cramming in endless references to the history of Apple, its products, its developers, its shareholders and every conceivable angle that a two-hour film could manage. Whatever critical adjectives could be levelled at Steve Jobs as a film, ‘dull’ is not one of them.

The film is centred around three key product launches with which Steve Jobs was involved: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT box (produced while Jobs was on involuntary hiatus from his own company) in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Other events are briefly incorporated through incredibly skilful use of flashback. One of the highlights of the film is Jobs (Michael Fassbender) thrashing out his differences with then Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) in 1988, crosscut with a tumultuous meeting with the board of Apple years previously which resulted in Jobs’ dismissal. Most of the major players in Jobs’ life – Steve Wozniak, the frequently undermined co-founder of Apple; Joanna Hoffman, the marketing executive attempting to reign in Jobs from his most hubristic impulses – are given enough screen time to sketch out their characters with some depth, though others, like Chrissan Brennan (Katherine Waterston), with whom Jobs fathered a daughter he refused to acknowledge, are less favourably serviced.

Certainly, Boyle has a formidable cast at his disposal. Fassbender is given perhaps his greatest leading role yet. Jobs is far more likely a character to attract mainstream attention than Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker, in Hunger, or Carl Jung, the psychotherapist, in A Dangerous Method. Though Fassbender is already well-known to audiences for his work in the X-Men franchise (a fleeting reference to a Children’s School for the Gifted may even be an in-joke for fans), this may propel his stardom even further. Kate Winslet is equally good as Hoffman, though her Polish accent increases and decreases in strength at certain points of the film. Seth Rogen seems to have taken a leaf out of frequent co-star Jonah Hill’s book by appearing in a supporting role outside his comedic comfort zone (Hill was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Moneyball, a film co-scripted by Aaron Sorkin).

Boyle’s films are often driven by plot (Shallow Grave, Trance, Slumdog Millionaire) but Steve Jobs less so. Jobs’ premature death at age 56 from a pancreatic tumour – with which no viewer will be unfamiliar – is not not even referenced through the traditional tell-don’t-show method of screen captions. There are poignant revelations, such as those concerning Jobs’ parentage, but overall the film is a character study, with little of the visual kineticism with which Boyle has come to be associated. The frequent tracking shots recall television’s The West Wing (of which Sorkin was the creator), and Boyle cleverly uses different film stocks for each era, so that a sudden cut to an earlier event will seem naturally grainier and therefore infused with a sense of wistfulness. An exception to Boyle’s restraint behind the camera is a typically pulsating montage – scored somewhat anachronistically by The Libertines – in which the ratio gradually narrows to replicate the cropped image of an upright iPhone video. It’s a reminder of the legacy Jobs left on the world, and its estimated 1.4 billion smartphone users.

Steve Jobs is released in the UK and Ireland on 13th November.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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