Biopics – either you love them or you hate them. I seem to be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. There is nothing I adore more than a riveting, exciting biographical film about an interesting figure, but there is also very few things I absolutely despise more than a saccharine, meandering biopic about someone uninteresting. Steve Jobs is someone that I admire more than I am actually interested in, but the glut of recent interest in him is not unfounded – he is a man that has essentially changed the way we use technology in our personal lives, and he is considered one of the greatest geniuses in history – yet, as this film shows, everyone else does all the work, he just served as a “conductor” (to borrow a phrase from the film). There have been a few documentaries about him, and a terrible biopic starring Ashton Kutcher two years ago, but nothing that accurately told his story. It goes without saying when I heard Aaron Sorkin (a screenwriter I don’t particularly like, but recognize that his name is synonymous with quality) was writing a film that would tell the story of Steve Jobs, I was very interested and thought it had the potential to be great, and while it isn’t amongst the best biopics I’ve seen, it is good enough to be entertaining and informative.
Biopics, as I mentioned above, have an unbearable quality to sometimes tell the tradition”cradle to grave” story of its subject. It is sometimes effective, but very rarely, and can be overlong, as the filmmaker is attempting to cover the entire life an individual notable enough to have a biopic in only two hours, thus leaving out some very important details. Not all biopics are like this, and many filmmakers attempt to play around with the form of biopics, and to tell the story of their subjects in unique and fascinating ways. There is very little doubt that Steve Jobs was a radically unconventional man, so it is only fitting that a biopic about him is unconventional itself. Instead of presenting the entire story of how Steve founded Apple Computers, and showing his successes and failures along the road until his departure from the company, it instead chooses to focus on three events Steve Jobs is most notable for – product launches, specifically the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Black Cube in 1988 and the iMac in 1999, with each product becoming an act of the film, thus creating a very unique way of presenting the three-act structure of a film like this. Each act is told in real-time, and concentrates on Jobs’ relationships with his family and co-workers. This was a form of filmmaking I wasn’t quite sure would work, but it was done very successfully here.
This film had a troubled history, to be perfectly honest. It obviously had a great script, but it seemed that it was far too volatile for anyone to really want to be connected to it. The first choice of director was David Fincher, who memorably directed a similar Sorkin-script technology drama a few years ago with The Social Network. He dropped out soon afterwards, as did his star, Christian Bale (probably the most perfect actor to play Jobs, both because of their physical resemblance and their mutually famous tempers). After this, a whole array of actors including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale (again) and George Clooney were considered to play Jobs, before Michael Fassbender was finally cast. Now there is very little resemblance between Fassbender and Jobs, and I was very dubious that he could pull it off. It didn’t help that the director chosen to replace Fincher was Danny Boyle, who is a very inconsistent director. However, Fassbender was good enough and committed to the role to actually not be that bad overall. His accent was very shaky at times, and I did feel that we were watching something do a pale imitation of Steve Jobs rather than to portray the man, but it was a relatively good performance that won’t really be memorable in a few years’ times, but it does give Fassbender the chance to grow as a performer, and combined with Macbeth this year, he is clearly showing his ability to be a versatile leading man.
The best part of this film was seeing Kate Winslet be fantastic again. I adore her as an actress, but since she won her Academy Award in 2009, her film career has been less than stellar, and while she did star in some good films, she didn’t do anything that matched her previous work. I am not sure if she just wanted a bit of a break from the prestige fare, or if she was simply not offered the roles her contemporaries were offered. Either way, I have been waiting for Winslet to make her comeback for quite a while now, and while this may not be what I had in mind – a supporting role – I do admire her performance here. She plays Joanna Hoffman, the right-hand woman of Steve Jobs who had to suffer through his insanity for decades, being his voice of reason and confidante that helped him achieve the notoriety and historical significance that most people associate him with. Winslet is very good, but this is far from her best performance. She does play the role with suitable anger and often humour, and has a quiet rage inside her throughout, but her performance is also not as great as I would’ve hoped. Her accent is inconsistent, and her role is somewhat underwritten. She has one or two big moments, but otherwise, her role could’ve been far better. Other than Fassbender and Winslet, no one else really sticks out. Jeff Daniels gives another reliable performance as John Sculley, the CEO of Apple. Seth Rogen tries to go down the Jonah Hill path by being in a serious film, but he doesn’t do nearly enough. It is a good, but not great, cast, and many of the actors are somewhat wasted.
Steve Jobs is a very good film – its an honest, revealing biopic of a truly great public figure. Michael Fassbender gives his best performance in it, and he is supported by Kate Winslet, who is also very good. The film itself is not going to go down in history as being legendary or iconic, but it is still a great and very entertaining him, and it is the exact film that Steve Jobs himself would’ve been proud of, and it is the biopic he deserved. It is a great film, and anyone that wants great dialouge and a compelling true story of one of history’s greatest geniuses will surely enjoy this film.
P.S. I really wish they gave the film a more original title. I understand the audience needs to know who the biopic is about, but it would’ve been a lot better if they gave it a better sounding and more imaginative title.