Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is no stranger to telling of troubled intellectuals’ trials and tribulations. His 2010 script for The Social Network deconstructed the myths of arrogance and aggression surrounding Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and now with Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which closed this year’s London Film Festival last night, he’s set about dissecting the life of the original Apple Genius. Those hoping for another scalding study of success, however, will be disappointed to discover that, despite some similarities with that film, this one only leaves a minute mark.
Working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the same name, Sorkin innovatively employs his own interpretation of a traditional three-act structure to help him scrutinise his subject. Built around 3 of the seminal product launches that took place during Jobs’ (Michael Fassbender) career – the ’84 Macintosh launch, the 88’ NeXT Cube presentation, and the ’98 unveiling of the iMac – Sorkin builds his story around the legendary iconoclast who was at the epicentre of the digital revolution.The use of such an inventive plot configuration allows Boyle and Sorkin to cut to the heart of the rising fandom that has gradually been cultivated around Apple Inc. The charged atmosphere that’s emitted from the growing public congregations as Jobs walks on stage each time, enhanced by Daniel Pemberton’s spiky score, effectively encapsulating the on-going age of iWorship.
Spent mostly backstage in the wings before the demonstrations take place, we follow Jobs around as he clashes professionally with the likes of Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and personally with his daughter Lisa (played respectively by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine) and her mother Chrisann (Katherine Waterston). Whilst also working with his marketing manager Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) to ensure each launch goes off without a hitch.
Enabled by Fassbender’s electric performance, which enthrallingly captures both the charisma and the cruelty of the Apple Inc. co-founder’s persona, Sorkin composes a compelling critique of troubled genius. His script sizzles with fiery wit and heated dialogue that illuminates the treacherous technological business Jobs managed to traverse, and analytically attempts to expose his reckless attitude towards relationships with both family and colleagues.Despite a great script that’s augmented by exceptional performances from the ensemble – Winslet, in particular, grounds the film through Hoffman’s partnership with Jobs – Boyle’s filmmaking is shockingly garbled and glitchy. Like his central character, throughout the director seems to be wrestling with an inner conflict, struggling to decide whether he considers Jobs to be a deity or a dickhead.
As such, the film’s searing streak of criticism is staggeringly superficial, the film more interested in celebrating Jobs’ successes and skipping over his failings – his fractured relationship with Lisa is drawn in particularly painful broad strokes, but plenty of attention is put in to showing his insatiable insistence on the original Mackintosh saying “hello”. What we’re left with, ultimately, is a slender microcosm of what should be a much more substantial story; Steve Jobs is incisive and intelligent, but unfortunately just too incoherent.