Let’s get it out of the way – Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is much, much better than Joshua Michael Stern’s Jobs (you know, the one with Ashton Kutcher). Having a much better cast and a more experienced screenwriter (hello, Aaron ‘everyone-walks-and-talks’ Sorkin) does make a crucial difference. And yet… and yet…
The film plays out in the crucial minutes before Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, this time not playing a nice piece of meat) presents some of his most iconic products, from 1984’s launch of the first Mac, to 1999, when the iMac is released into the world to freely roam. While his assistant and ‘work wife’ Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) pulls her hair out making everything run smoothly and on time, Jobs, in a Mortal Kombat of the emotional kind mode, confronts his friends, family and mentors – from computer nerd Wozniak (Seth Rogen), money bags John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and ex-wife Chrisann (Katherine Waterson). Through occasional flashbacks we also see Jobs mostly being a dick to everyone (or an incipient dick/dick-in-progress, if you feel generous).
Based on Walter Isaacson’s book (the big white one you bought and intend to read one day), Steve Jobs feels all Sorkin and little Boyle. The 8-bit inspired soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton (of Peep Show fame) gives the film a nerdy touch that is elsewhere incredibly absent, for, you know, a film about a tech innovator. As you may have guessed by the awards lists, the film’s two major strengths are Fassbender and Winslet: the first manages to get rid of his star persona and incarnate Mr Jobs with a credibility that makes us forget it’s him behind the glasses (and forgive the absence of nudity). Winslet, by far our favourite, shows once more she can stretch herself beyond what’s expected from the Titanic legend, and makes Joanna’s character very much her own.
But why does this film, with a stellar cast and crew, feel so underwhelming? Firstly, Sorkin’s portrait of Jobs, no matter how great an actor Fassbender is, feels frustratingly superficial, particularly when compared to what he did with Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. The empathy for this man obsessed with perfect cubes just isn’t quite there, and you can tell without the need of a ruler. Then, the actual structure of the film may account for its lack of oompf – the repetitive format, which Steve’s character himself jokes about at some point, makes it too predictable for the audience to feel engaged. The first instance is great; the second good; and it goes downhill from there, no matter how peppered with flashbacks to give it some additional flavour. It may be the perfect example of a good idea that just doesn’t work when put into practice.
These structural issues progress until the dreadful ending, far from brilliant in any shape or form, which, without giving any spoilers, just hammers some forced sentimentality down our throats, something that, in design terms, completely clashes with the rest of the picture. It’s an ending so provincial you can look to the side and see a pasture with cows in it. Do the cows have iPods? Maybe. But they’re still cows. So…less bullshit, Sorkin. Think different.
It’s a different approach to the biopic genre, and if it was about anyone else, we would be less harsh about its flaws. Still, it’s Steve Jobs we’re talking about, and failure is not an option. And an afterthought for the next generation, for the crazy ones, misfits, and other Apple religious followers – must all biopics about Jobs end when he returns to the company? Why can’t we see this God who put the tech world on their knees face his own mortality? Isn’t that the real drama of the character, the film we really want to see?
Steve Jobs was released in the UK on 13th November 2015.