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Boyle-d Apples: Steve Jobs Reviewed
Patrick Gamble , November 16th, 2015 08:42

Patrick Gamble reviews Danny Boyle’s biopic of Apple Co-founder Steve Jobs

Prior to Danny Boyle’s recent biopic Steve Jobs, the life of the titular Apple co-founder and former CEO had already been the focus of a documentary by prolific director Alex Gibney, a biopic, Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher and two prominent biographies. It’s the authorised biography, written by Jobs and American journalist Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs that forms the basis of Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s script, a grandiose and ferociously verbose study of self-aggrandisement and the cult of personality that loomed large over Apple.

The 1997 Apple slogan, “Think different” has been embraced by Boyle and Sorkin, with Steve Jobs eschewing the conventional biopic template and splitting its story into three distinct acts, each one an approximate real-time glimpse behind the curtain of a product launch. Although formally audacious the film’s narrative arc is not dissimilar to your conventional rock-star narrative.

The build up to each of Jobs' (Michael Fassbender) keynote speeches is shrouded in the type of backstage anxiety more commonly associated with the chaos preceding the raising of the curtain at a sold-out concert. These three acts represent key moments in Jobs' career, his rise to prominence, inevitable fall from grace, and ultimate re-birth. During the first act, the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the anticipation of the baying crowds outside is palpable (thanks to the now infamous Super-bowl ad Apple produced prior to the launch). Everyone is in crisis mode after discovering a system error, frantically trying to get the Macintosh to say “hello”. During the second act, the release of the neXT “black cube” in 1988, there’s the nervousness and apprehension that accompanies the new work of a celebrated frontman gone solo. The Macintosh has tanked and Jobs has been fired from Apple and is preparing a comeback via his new company. The film’s final act, the launch of the desktop iMac in 1998, is Jobs highly-anticipated return to Apple; his reunion show.

Steve Jobs’ most striking accomplishment is the decision to shoot each of these acts in different formats. At the launch of the Macintosh in 84 the De Anza Community College is shot in coarse 16mm, whilst 35mm is used for the late 80s launch of the neXT in the San Francisco Opera House. The film’s final act switches from analogue to digital for the iMac launch at the San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, an aesthetic more aligned to Apple’s modern streamlined approach. During the technological evolution of these chapters Daniel Pemberton’s score advances from tribal percussive beats to soaring classical arrangements, with Boyle demonstrating an attention to detail that would have surely been admired by Jobs.

Throughout these three periods there’s one major through-line that acts as the film’s spine, the foundation in which Boyle and Sorkin attempt to add meat and bones to the ethereal image of Jobs. Utilising Jobs's well-documented unwillingness to acknowledge his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa (played by Makenzie Moss in 1984, Ripley Sobo in 1988 and finally Perla Haney-Jardine in 1998) and financially support his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), their relationship acts to demonstrate Jobs' lack of empathy and emotional intelligence. The inclusion of the relationship between Jobs and his daughter is intended to demonstrate the key to Apple’s success, namely; as Jobs learnt to be more human, his innovations become more user friendly and popular. However, what we’re left with feels merely a celebratory concert movie about an introverted genius who merely understood the market. Therefore it falls to Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) to ground both jobs and the film. As well as his marketing chief, Hoffman acts as his emotional anchor; his one remaining link to the world and the conduit through which he exhibits some form of human connection by orchestrating Jobs' relationship with his daughter and suppressing his ego.

Much like Jobs decision to put a friendly face on the Macintosh computer Fassbender morphs his interpretation of Jobs from the indelible cult image the audience will be familiar with, to something loosely resembling a functioning human being. We’re also privy to occasional flashbacks to the younger Jobs, when he and his lifelong pal Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) first began tinkering with circuit boards and numerous verbal duels between Jobs and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), an adopted father figure for Jobs and the Apple CEO who eventually fired him. However, it’s Fassbender’s intense and committed performance that instils life into the constructed monument of capitalist entrepreneurialism that Jobs grew to embody.

Jumping erratically between the extremes of Jobs' personality in search for the truth we’re witness to the best elements of his character, his ability to rise to the occasion, a heightened intelligence, and a trailblazing understanding of the wider commercial computing market. We’re also privy to his worst characteristics, in particular an inability to connect on a human level with friends, family and co-workers. Sadly the film’s constrictive form means there’s little time to explore the space between these two extremes, something raised by Rogen towards the end of the film when he confronts Jobs before the iMac launch: “You can be decent and gifted at the same time. It’s not binary.”

Sorkin is a fascinating choice of screenwriter for the Jobs' biopic. Like Jobs he has seen himself become the poster-boy for a profession not normally known for cultivating celebrities. Sorkin’s name has been seen amongst headlines announcing the rise of the screenwriter as the auteur. Sorkin’s distinctive style is all over Steve Jobs, with Boyle’s desperate attempts to keep pace, resulting in an aggressively ostentatious mix of dizzying camera movements and sharp editing that fails to coalesce with the kinetic energy of Sorkin’s prose. For all its levity and volubility, the enthusiasm of Sorkin’s script often borders on the ridiculous, with this remorseless delivery of information, although ferociously enthralling, often far too on-the-nose and guilty of overpowering the film’s other creative elements. Ultimately, the incompatibility of Boyle and Sorkin’s styles results in a film that feels like something televisual desperately trying to appear cinematic; a movie comprised of frantic dialogue that often drowns out the subtle permeations of its meticulously constructed relationships.

Jobs never revealed much about his politics or personal life, not out of a desire for privacy, but so he wouldn’t disappoint Apple’s loyal customers. The film’s dialogue is purely theatrical, lacking in humanity and stripped directly from magazine quotes, interviews and authorised biographies. Boyle’s film is, like most fictionalised biographies, not really meant to be about Steve Jobs or Apple, but a film about myth building and how he managed to win the adoration of the world. Initially it looks like Boyle and Sorkin have found the key to successfully unravelling the connection between the consumer desire for a more human interaction and the corporate construction of brand identity by inhabiting a fissure in the relationship between style and reality. Yet as the film hurdles toward its conclusion, with Jobs openly admitting he’s “poorly made” whilst promising to put “five hundred or a thousand songs” in his daughter’s pocket, it’s clear that Boyle's film, although not without guile, nor lacking sincerity, has done little more than solidify Jobs' enduring image as the modern anti-hero for a ruthless capitalist world.

Steve Jobs is in cinemas now