Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Cinematographer: Alwin H. Küchler
Composer: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg.
Though he is mostly known for his work in film and television, Aaron Sorkin began his career as a playwright and not a screenwriter. His first work in film, in fact, was writing the script to his own play A Few Good Men. Sorkin’s bread and butter for many years became the political drama, from The American President to his tenure as writer and creator of the excellent The West Wing. After a couple of less successful television shows Sorkin returned to film and successfully penned the scripts to lauded films like The Social Network (for which he won an Oscar) and Moneyball (receiving a nomination, but no gold this time). I mention his history in the theater because his latest script seems to be an homage to his time writing for the stage, and is the most theatrical work he has written, in spite of having adapted his own plays and writing television shows about television shows. Steve Jobs is a very creative biopic that takes place in three acts and was itself rehearsed as if it were a theatrical production, avoiding the usual filmmaking process. It is Sorkin-esque to its very core, including its extremely fast-paced dialogue, multiple people speaking at the same time, and the now iconic “walk and talk” sequences. The presence of a mad genius who is supported, questioned, and at times condemned by a second hand woman is also part of his usual bag of tricks. It all works really well.
The somewhat disappointing thing about this movie, from a creative point of view, is that the film has such a good director who seems completely absent. Danny Boyle has also won an Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire) and has directed several films that have been successful and that I have really enjoyed. The issue with Boyle is that in spite of a career that now spans over 20 years and several impressive films, he still doesn’t really have a signature style. You know immediately when you are watching a Martin Scorsese film, or one by Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Guy Ritchie, and many other directors, both iconic and more contemporary to Boyle. It’s interesting that the British director, though, has been unable to create a style of his own or even find a niche. I am not saying that he should be pigeonholed, but it’s also not ideal that one can watch one of his films and not even be really aware of it without the help of the credits. He has made movies set in space (Sunshine), zombie films (28 Days Later), and films about the fight for human survival (127 Hours). The film that put Boyle on the map, Trainspotting, seemed to establish his voice and style, but he has failed to really connect with what made that film so singular and has instead focused on expanding his repertoir than identifying what makes a film by Danny Boyle different from any other movie. The end result is that his films, though at times even excellent, seem to belong to others. In the case of his latest, Aaron Sorkin and his script seemed to be in charge, front and center, causing Boyle to disappear behind the camera.
Michael Fassbender, who has slowly been establishing himself as someone worthy of praise and attention, plays Steve Jobs and quickly makes anyone forget that this is the third film to portray the now iconic Apple visionary. While the German-Irish actor doesn’t look like Jobs, nor really sound like him, he captures something more fleeting and ethereal and it’s why the film, and especially his performance, works so well. Fassbender could have played Jobs as either over the top and scenery chewing or too unlikable, but instead he portrays a brilliant albeit deeply flawed visionary egomaniac. The moments of humanity, emotion, and pathos he capably conveys have finally converted me, because for a while I was struggling to see what all the fuss was really about. I now get it.
On the other hand Kate Winslet was not facing this type of expectation. A fan of hers since the 90’s, I consider the British actress to be one of the most talented and phenomenal actresses alive, and her latest performance is just another successful role that she can add to a very very long list of great performances. Winslet plays Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ marketing executive. She is the voice of reason, a confidant, the film’s moral moral compass, and Jobs’ conscience. The fact that she does it while also performing a really tricky and phenomenally crafted subtle accent is all the more reason to heap praise upon her. The awards and accolades were well deserved for both Fassbender and Winslet, and I really wouldn’t have been disappointed had either one walked away with an Oscar last Sunday.
Rounding out the cast are Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Katherine Waterston as the mother of Jobs’ illegitimate daughter, and Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley. Daniels is a great actor who knows what he is doing and can always be depended upon to deliver an excellent performance, especially in supporting roles. It helps that he is a frequent Sorkin collaborator, further showcasing the influence the screenwriter had on the film as a whole. Rogen and Waterston are not great in the film, doing little with the already thinly drawn characters they were provided with. Especially Rogen proves once again is utter inability to do anything other than his usual schtick, which makes his hiring all the more confusing, especially in more serious fare such as this film. For some reason people seem to enjoy his idiotic stoner man child character in broad Judd Apatow movies, but beyond that he really should not be employed. Waterston’s issue is that she seems to belong to the school of hipster acting that afflicts the entire mumblecore movement (and she does in fact have that experience) and doesn’t appear like she is capable of switching off the mannerisms and habits when hired in other types of films and productions.
Regardless of the less than ideal secondary casting of Waterston and Rogen, the film as a whole was actually really impressive. I loved the conceit of framing the film around three product launches in 1984, 1988, and 1998. I really liked how the film did not have so much of a biopic feel, but rather took on an almost artsy aesthetic and oneiric quality. Fassbender and Winslet are two actors at the top of their game, complemented very well by Daniels. But the most praise lies in Aaron Sorkin and his very good script, which makes his snub in the screenwriting category at the Oscars this year really shocking. Sure, the Oscars didn’t really need yet one more white dude to be nominated, but in this case he should have been.