Watching Steve Jobs, it’s clear that the man in question undoubtedly had a flair for the theatrical. So too does Ridley Scott, whose famously dramatic advert for the Apple Macintosh release in 1984 was considered one of the biggest marketing events of the time and remains, until now, the biggest cinematic event in Apple’s history.
That extends to director Danny Boyle and screenplay writer Aaron Sorkin, whose depiction of Jobs here is particularly theatrical. Divided into three distinct acts, the film details the events of three product launches in 1984, 1988 and 1998, something the company (and Jobs) has become renowned for. It’s a conceit based on repetition, as we witness the growth of Apple itself and the rise in success of Jobs, the screen literally morphing from scuzzy low-fi 80s filters to a modern clarity. Although we never see Jobs in action delivering his speeches, we see the juxtaposition of his innovative mind with the crumbling relationships he holds with his colleagues and family and, as the years progress, the film’s very structure invites comparison between each act.
It’s certainly a clever idea, creating a film that’s ripe for analysis and discussion. Yet it also feels cold, mechanical and forced. It’s as if Sorkin is trying too hard to be clever in his screenplay, a screenplay that oscillates between endless business and computer jargon spat like bullets in corridor arguments, and wry self-knowing humour – Jobs questions at one point late on why these people always wants to have conversations before an event. The irony of the action taking place in a Symphony Hall isn't lost, with reality dramatized like a musical theme and variation. What’s missing is Boyle’s usual flair for flashy visuals, pop culture and music (the score alternates between Kraftwerk-esque computer bleeps and melodramatic classical music). The result is a film that feels overly-structured, prescribed and lacks a sense of heart – we have little reason to emotionally invest in these characters or care about events, no matter how urgently Sorkin thrusts them in our face. This is far more his film than Boyle’s.
In so many ways, then, the film mirrors its subject matter, portrayed in a remarkable performance from Michael Fassbender (with amusing support from Kate Winslet as Jobs' assistant with a wavering Eastern European accent). The key quote from the film comes from Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak: “it’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time”. For Jobs, though, it’s very much binary. Here is a self-professed “conductor of the orchestra”, a man who thrives on seeing the bigger picture. He’s arrogant, condescending, manipulative. He understands people, their requirements, and how to distill that into technology. Yet he lacks emotional intelligence and fails at sustaining almost all of his relationships – specifically that with his daughter, Lisa.
In short, he’s an arsehole.
In many ways, then, Steve Jobs is a typical film about an overtly intelligent geek wedded more to his work than his family, and its structure and mise en scene mirror this. It’s a film about a man who refuses to admit his faults, who appears almost superhuman. And it’s about a control freak who overpowers everyone and everything he meets (similarly to how Sorkin’s style smothers everything else the film has to offer).
But most of all it’s a meditation on the meaning of genius. As the film’s final moments suggest, a genius is someone who inspires, with Jobs appearing almost godlike awash in celestial light. It’s the overblown climax to a film that is essentially porn for Apple aficionados. Jobs may have been an inspiring figure, but the film itself doesn’t provoke that same feeling.
Watch: Steve Jobs is out now.