It’s rather surprising to realize that Steve Jobs is a Danny Boyle movie. Boyle’s trademark is kinetic energy – his camera wants to move, to jump, pan and zoom and sometimes go wild (remember how Trainspotting hit the ground running all those years ago?). His biopic Steve Jobs, however, shows you two hours’ worth of talking heads. That is what you get when the screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin.
Almost every scene is set indoors, either before, during or after three Apple product launches. Jobs is only very rarely off-screen – if he is on, he is the centre of attention, and everyone else revolves around him like his own personal solar system. A scene showing him play squash or doing some other private thing would feel fake. Jobs must have defined himself through what he wanted to accomplish.
The movie is never boring. Boyle sneaks in short, clever asides that would go wrong in other directorial hands. Look at how he reminds us that NeXT was an utter failure: he shows us Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa for less than a second. Another clever choice is the background when Apple CEO John Sculley confronts Jobs: there are coffee-house chairs heaped on marble-top round tables. Some of the chairs are upside down, so that the whole scene looks as if parts of it stand on their heads. There is also an aspect of chaos because the chairs are not stackable.
Another recommendation is Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs. He has never really convinced me in his other movies (with the exception of Hunger and Shame), but here he doesn’t put a foot wrong. With all this dialogue, there is no faking it – if you are not fully prepared, you will go down. Fassbender makes it look like smooth sailing. He doesn’t look anything like Jobs, but I have a feeling that large chunks of dialogue are lifted from interviews or memos. Jobs was often tactless and even cruel, mainly because he knew what he wanted and would not let himself be distracted by anyone to get there. His rudeness, to him, was not a character flaw, but a time-saving shortcut to the truth as he saw it.
And Sorkin’s screenplay taught me a lot about writing speedy, smart dialogue. Sorkin also wrote the screenplay for Fincher’s The Social Network, featuring Mark Zuckerberg, another driven computer geek. Sorkin envelops Jobs in some kind of grandezza: “Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.” According to this movie, Jobs couldn’t write code; it was what Zuckerberg did for days and nights on end. Zuckerberg turned his inferiority complex into coin, Jobs his hubris. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) reminds him that the NeXT computer lacks an OS and so is essentially a black cube without any use whatsoever. Jobs replies: “The people have no idea what they want.” This comes from a guy who knew exactly what he wanted, and could trick people into wanting what he had to sell.
Other people want things, too, and they want it from him. Jobs was worth untold millions, but initially refused to acknowledge his daughter Lisa from his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), who lived on welfare. There is a human side to him that he wants to hide, but cannot, because Lisa is beyond his control, which must have been hell for a control freak like Jobs. He doesn’t care wheter you like him or not, but hell, he is interesting to listen to. I’d rather get stuck in an elevator with Jobs than with Zuckerberg.