Nowadays I’m veering more toward the technophobe than technophile but when I was given the chance earlier this week to see a preview screening of Danny Boyle’s much anticipated Steve Jobs film, I grabbed it, well he is the man who gave us Renton and Spud being chased through the streets of Edinburgh to the sound of Lust for Life and the eerie beauty of the Cillian Murphy character drifting across a deserted London accompanied by In the House, In a Heartbeat by John Murphy in 28 Days Later.
The Steve Jobs screenplay was penned by Aaron Sorkin, best known for The Social Network, which I didn’t expect to enjoy but did, and Moneyball, which I had high hopes for but which left me underwhelmed.
Here he employs a daring, very theatrical structure with three clear acts, each lasting around forty minutes and played out in real time (with a few flashbacks) and against a countdown leading up to the moment when it’s time for the man to take to the stage to launch a high profile new product: the Macintosh in 1984; the NeXt cube in 1988, after he’s been ousted by the Apple Board and finally, back in the Apple fold, his vision vindicating iMac in 1998.
Importantly, though, there is also a very brief prelude, some archive footage of Arthur C. Clarke predicting a future world where people can live anywhere and communicate with others around the planet via their own computers. Obviously without Jobs, Sorkin seems to be suggesting, the home computer revolution was going to happen anyway, which I would agree with, albeit without Jobs’ input, it might have taken longer and looked less elegant.
Steve Jobs is played by Michael Fassbender, an actor who seems to have gone from strength to strength since I first saw him in Wedding Belles. This Jobs is lean, mean and, when we first see him, very keen for the Macintosh to be able to say hello when switched on, to the extent that he threatens to name and shame an employee Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) in front of a crowded shareholder’s meeting when, due to a system error, the computer isn’t guaranteed to do as he wishes.
‘Fix it? We’re not a pit crew at Daytona. This can’t be fixed in seconds.’
‘You didn’t have seconds. You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time.’
‘Well, maybe someday you’ll have to tell us how you did it.’
A compromise solution is found but there’s more problems that will need to be dealt with, even more important than the need to find a shirt at short notice with a pocket large enough to house a floppy disk, although he might not see it that way.
Backstage his ex-girlfriend Chrissann Brennan and (disputed) daughter Lisa are waiting, and the ex (Katherine Waterston) is as determined to force him to admit paternity of the child as Jobs is for his Macintosh to be a success. Well, the value of his Apple stock is on the rise and worth hundreds of millions while she’s being forced to apply for welfare.
Then there’s Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), a crucial player at Apple, who is gonna be mightily pissed off if Jobs doesn’t thank the team behind the creation of the money making Apple II during his speech. Which Jobs has no intention of doing.
It says a lot about how skilful Boyle is at coaxing performances from his casts that Rogen is exceptionally good here, something I never thought I’d say after watching Zack and Miri Make a Porno – strangely enough the Miri from that film, Elizabeth Banks, was excellent too in my other favourite biopic from this year, Love & Mercy.
And if you’re wondering why Jobs’ trusted confidant and continual voice of reason, Joanna Hoffman, a brunette with bad ’80s specs, looks familiar then that’s because she’s Kate Winslet.
It might still be a bit early to be talking about the Oscars but surely Winslet is a dead cert for a Best Supporting Actress nomination and I would think the film will also be in contention in a number of other categories: Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor (Fassbender), Best Supporting Actor (Rogen, with Jeff Daniels as John Sculley in with a shout too).
Visually, it’s nowhere near as magical as Slumdog Millionaire. Neither is it as gripping, visceral and funny as Trainspotting albeit very few films are. By Boyle standards, its soundtrack lacks the excitement of many of his previous films, although Don’t Look Back into the Sun always sounds good to me. The structure too is slightly problematic in that such a meticulous man would, I’m guessing, ensure that there would be no possible backstage hassles before such important events.
On the plus side, the script is constantly absorbing and astonishingly tight. When Lisa doodles what she calls an ‘abstract’ on MacPaint, it’s there for a reason and when a suddenly blasé Jobs comes out with the comment, ‘If it crashes, it crashes,’ as the NeXt cube is about to be introduced to the world, then it’s again for a very specific reason although unless you’re an Jobs/Apple devotee you won’t have a clue why.
The dialogue is punchy as hell. The cinematography by Alwin Küchler is highly inventive too, especially since the film consists almost entirely of interior shots. The first act is shot on grainy 16mm stock, the next on 35mm and the final third on sharp digital.
I will very likely go and see Steve Jobs again when it opens nationwide next month. And if there was ever to be a sequel reuniting Boyle, Sorkin and Fassbender and covering the iPod, iPhone and illness years, then I would go to see that too, although even if that was it happen, it won’t be before Boyle shoots Trainspotting 2 – and here I briefly try, and fail, to imagine a Sorkin scripted version of that.
Steve Jobs opens in British cinemas on November 13. For more on the film click here.