“Sorkin’s dialog would be of little merit if it wasn’t recited by the immensely talented cast this film boasts.”
For a mainstream film about a technological titan, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is immensely subversive in the way that it rejects biopic convention to give us the parts of Jobs’s story I’m sure many of us wouldn’t have put near the top of our lists to see. The film focuses on the behind-the-scenes interworkings of three specific press conferences Jobs delivered: the first is the unveiling of the original Macintosh computer following an electrifying Super Bowl commercial in 1984, the second is the announcement of the NeXT Box, the debut hardware from Jobs’s own company NeXT in 1988, and the final is the reveal of Jobs’s iMac computer in 1998, after Jobs is rehired by Apple. Just as Jobs is about to stand before the crowd to give his press conferences, Boyle’s camera cuts and Sorkin’s script deviates to a transitory scene that takes place in the middle of the sequence we just watched and the sequence we’re about to see.
What should’ve made for a disjointed and unnerving film instead creates a symphonic blend of sharp dialog, terrific character acting, and intimate character development and relations behind one of the most recognized names in the technology field. Michael Fassbender plays Steve Jobs, a wickedly smart but frequently condescending man, uncaring of what people think of him so long as he gets his vision out to the public. He’s assisted, morally guided, and somewhat kept in line by his marketing adviser Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), especially when his daughter Lisa gets caught up in a brutal battle of paternity denial. Lisa’s mother finds this a deplorable act of cowardice on Jobs’ behalf; he finds it a setback and an attempt to devalue his name and career.
Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin also show Jobs’ relationship with Apple CEO John Scully (Jeff Daniels), who seems to always be on the opposite page of Jobs no matter the issue. Scully is a marketing and business traditionalist, ultimately concerned with promotion and the bottom dollar, where Jobs believes that innovation and creating something people didn’t know they wanted should be the fundamental goal of a technology empire (in one brilliant scene, Jobs states, “the person who said ‘the customer is always right’ was almost certainly a customer”). Finally, there’s the long-developed and discussed relationship between Jobs and his college buddy Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who surprisingly takes a backseat to much of the action, only turning up to knock Jobs off his high-horse by reminding him that, despite him commanding the orchestra, he doesn’t know how to make any of the parts move nor does he really do anything other than dictate and belittle.
I’m sure there were few people thinking Sorkin’s screenplay for Steve Jobs wouldn’t be top-notch, but I’m not sure many expected how sharp and biting the dialog of this film was going to be. Rather than focusing on capturing every noteworthy event of Jobs’ life in a concise, completionist manner like the forgotten Jobs biopic two years ago, Sorkin focuses on the conversations between the people that made them happen. The dialog here is always alive, turning a two hour film into one that races past at lightning speed – something I don’t say often.
But Sorkin’s dialog would be of little merit if it wasn’t recited by the immensely talented cast this film boasts. The supporting performances here are the kind of performances that transcend the power of the lesser characters in a film, and Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet truly capitalize off of the power of their characters. Daniels works to make every line of dialog he says level-headed and understandable from his perspective, and Winslet, who ostensibly gets a very thankless role, turns her character into an undeniable force and commendable female supporting role. Winslet is as good as Fassbender, who ultimately is the beating heart of this film. Fassbender’s ability to be as mesmerizing in his smugness and his confidence is what keeps this film watchable, in addition to his ability to be so interesting as he condescends people, using elaborate but believable dialog appropriate for a variety of situations. The only one who seems out of place here is indeed Rogen, who always looks and seems to feel like he’s about to make some kind of a joke or a quip in every scene he’s in.
Finally, there’s the richness in the film’s photography, largely thanks, not only to Boyle, but cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, who give this film the presentation that the events are occurring in their respective time periods. This turns a film bent on profiling the ugliness in Steve Jobs’ character into a very beautiful and richly photographed film capable of inspiring certain emotions due largely in part to he way the film operates and feels with every passing scene. Even the editing choices by Elliot Graham work, as tricky and as risky as they are; one particular moment involves splicing two scenes involving conversations between Jobs and Scully, one when Jobs is begging Scully to be his CEO, the other, captured in the present day, absolutely blasting him for his move to fire him from the company he helped create, over two very different times. The result shouldn’t be as powerful and as titillating as it is.
Yet, Steve Jobs is a powerful and titillating film, proving my notion that films that dedicate themselves to profiling a character through dialog and his relations with others can be just as gripping as any action film you can name. This also serves as a cogent reminder to those who emptily praise Jobs without really understanding his character or his accomplishments. Political commentator and pundit Bill Maher pointed out an interesting note on this film, assuming it would be successful like many other biopics about cut-throat people of success because America has a love for “a**holes.” I don’t disagree, but this film should be regarded like The Wolf of Wall Street in a way where neither the director or writer of the film actively condemns the titular figure, and instead simply allow for his actions to condemn and define himself before audiences.