Screenwriting liberty puts the Apple talisman’s biopic firmly in the land of the Newton
To describe me as a moviegoer would be more than a tad disingenuous. Finding the time to sit down and properly immerse myself in a film, let alone take a trip to a cinema to spend my life savings on a box of popcorn that I’ll regret within minutes, is difficult.
Nevertheless, I do tend to enjoy adaptations of books that document the lives of the modern world’s more perplexing figures. Two that come to mind are The Social Network, the Oscar-winning dramatisation of the origins of Facebook that helped us to realise that Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera were not actually the same person, and Moneyball, the Oscar-nominated translation of advanced baseball statistics and a hairy Brad Pitt to a mainstream audience.
The common link of these movies? Acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. His latest twirl of the pen, Steve Jobs, is about to hit UK screens, however those looking for another film of that ilk may be sorely disappointed. Directed by Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs claims to be based upon Walter Isaacson’s 2011 authorised biography of the late Apple co-founder, though is not afraid to abandon all pretence of historical accuracy bar the presentation itself.
Cinematically, Steve Jobs is perhaps the most intriguing film since Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-winner Birdman. Set almost solely on location in three auditoriums, it is fitting that the movie has a trio of theatrical acts, each taking place in the immediate lead-up to product launches (Macintosh in 1984, NeXT Computer in 1988, iMac in 1998). Of course, by Sorkin’s own admission, it’s incredibly unlikely that Jobs would have had aggressive and fast-paced conversations with the same core of acquaintances at any, let alone all, of the three events, but this narrowed focus does help to entice an audience to persist through its prolonged 122 minute runtime. Unfortunately, it is where Sorkin and co. play recklessly with the facts that you would expect a film titled Steve Jobs to present that the movie begins to unravel.
Our three segments portray individual key concepts: Jobs The Heartless Bastard, Jobs The Manipulative Genius, and Jobs The Sentimental Hollywood Movie Character (not technical terms, I assure you). Each is extrapolated over the 40 minutes immediately prior to Jobs taking the stage. The first centralises around Jobs’ relationship with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and his daughter (much to his initial chagrin) Lisa, whilst the second expands into his business endeavours and that little stumble of being fired by Apple’s board. The final part, an elongated spectacle of sentimentality, grates tremendously, culminating in Jobs chasing his finally-a-daughter onto a roof to tell her he’s going to make the iPod and solve all their problems. Or something. Interest was waning by this point.
Our Jobs is Michael Fassbender, who plays his part exceptionally. It’s quite simple to forget how little he looks like his real-life equivalent as he oscillates between nit-picking details and heartless dismissal of his own children with chilling ease, and he does settle physically into the role as time passes. Early on, despite the movie and the character doing everything possible to encourage hatred for the man, Fassbender somehow creates slivers of empathy for the audience to grasp on to. If nothing else gains recognition come award season, his performance is highly commendable.
Other performances, however, drag the movie slowly beneath the surface. Seth Rogen, portraying a bumbling caricature of Steve Wozniak, takes to serious acting like a MacBook to water. His confrontation with Jobs, which is one of oh so many, introduces the audience to the concept of Xerox PARC and Jobs’ own ‘lack’ of contributions to the actual creation of the devices.
Various characters – such as Jobs’ right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), father figure and sometime Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and benevolent object of berating Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) – pop up throughout, regardless of their actual employment status at the times depicted, and take their turns to sound off at Jobs in a formulaic manner. Particularly in the final segment, all the movie is missing is a physical queue outside Jobs’ dressing room with a deli counter ticketing system.
To appreciate Steve Jobs is to appreciate Steve Jobs, not Steve Jobs. This is a decent movie loosely based on a set of real people, blatantly masquerading as a biopic for a mainstream audience that may not know better. Ignore the name, for this is not a biopic of one of the foremost figures in consumer technology. Walt Mossberg, who knew Jobs and interviewed him on numerous occasions, compared Steve Jobs to Citizen Kane, in which Orson Welles took liberties with the truth and repackaged it under a different banner to bring it to the world.
Fast-talking, confrontational, and frantic. Perhaps an accurate tricolon for the Silicon Valley of today, though not the formula for what is in essence a serious mockumentary to fulfil its lofty expectations. A fascinating work of fiction it may be, but Steve Jobs is not the Steve Jobs movie we’ve been waiting for.
Steve Jobs opens in UK cinemas tomorrow (November 13th)
This review was originally published on Digixav