Written by Matt Taylor
We’ve seen a handful of prestige pictures so far this year but, with Steve Jobs, 2015 has its first full-fledged Oscar contender. While not perfect, this nontraditional biopic is a compelling, well made drama that combines the best qualities of writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle while showcasing a talented ensemble.
Wisely avoiding the typical structure of a biographical drama, Aaron Sorkin’s impressive screenplay focuses on three specific days in Steve Job’s life, showcasing the technology pioneer mere minutes before the launches of some of his most influential products. These sequences, which are shot in real-time, focus on the many conflicts that Jobs had with his co-workers, and his contentious relationship with his board. Sorkin’s trademark writing style is a perfect fit for this sort of storyline, with characters barking harsh insults across hallways and trading witty one-liners frequently. It makes for a very entertaining, fast-moving film, even if it abandons any sense of realism in the process. While never quite as strong as Sorkin’s last tech-based drama, The Social Network, his script for Steve Jobs is quite impressive.
The real heart of the film, however, is Jobs’ relationship with his daughter, Lisa. While I have no idea how much their onscreen bond matches reality, their scenes together elevate the film greatly. The early scenes, in which Jobs vehemently denies that Lisa is his daughter and degrades her mother, cut deep, with Sorkin’s dialogue becoming even more vicious than usual. But, as the relationship between Jobs and Lisa deepens over the years, Sorkin’s writing becomes more emotional than ever, thanks largely to Danny Boyle’s direction. While they are a tad bit emotionally manipulative, the later scenes that focus on the father/daughter relationship are really beautifully done. Save for one cringe-worthy line that foreshadows the iPhone with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, the last fifteen minutes make up for all the film’s faults.
And there are quite a few faults. Sorkin’s dialogue isn’t perfect, with the characters going out of their way to speak the theme of the movie on more than one occasion. Characters announce motivations and metaphors rather plainly, without any sense of self-awareness, and virtually every character that isn’t the titular figure are left underdeveloped. Still, this is better than anything Aaron Sorkin has written since The Social Network, and more than makes up for his self-righteous work on The Newsroom. And, luckily, there’s a terrific cast to help elevate the material when it falls flat.
Unsurprisingly, this is Michael Fassbender’s show, and while he might not resemble the real Steve Jobs, he inhabits the role perfectly, and absolutely nails his voice. More importantly, Fassbender doesn’t so much mimic the man he’s playing but, instead, creates a character of his own. Regardless of how close his portrayal might be to reality, his ability to spit out Sorkin’s dialogue at a rapid-fire pace, while handling both the dramatic and comedic scenes with equal amounts of grace, is undeniably impressive. At his side for virtually the entire film, and deserving of just as much credit, is Kate Winslet, delivering what is easily her best performance since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from 11 years ago. As Jobs’ right-hand-woman, Winslet has to go toe-to-toe with Fassbender and the two make a terrific team. While Hoffman is a somewhat underwritten character, existing almost entirely to help develop Jobs, Winslet makes a lasting impression on the audience. Truthfully, the entire cast is worthy of praise, whether it be an against-type Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniack, or Jeff Daniels as John Sculley. But Fassbender and Winslet are in almost every scene of the film, and their performances will certainly stand out as highlights come the end of the year.
From a technical standpoint, Steve Jobs is, unsurprisingly, impressive. The editing is particularly memorable, with flashbacks being woven into the plot perfectly. The score also matches the tone of the film well, and is used effectively throughout the film, even if it occaisoanlly sounded too similar to Trent Reznor’s Oscar winning work on The Social Network. But, technical prowess isn’t a surprise during Oscar season. What is a surprise about Steve Jobs is how Danny Boyle makes Aaron Sorkin’s script a surprisingly emotional affair. While there are some problems to be found, this is an entertaining drama with some incredibly well done sequences. Film fans and award show addicts certainly won’t want to miss this.
Steve Jobs Overall Rating: 7 out of 10