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Reviews

Steve Jobs

Gareth Higgins

Steve Jobs
Directed by Danny Boyle
Cert 15, 122 mins

By the time Steve Jobs arrived in cinemas, the only member of its key creative team who remained from the project's inception was its writer, Aaron Sorkin. Original director David Fincher, who had collaborated with Sorkin on The Social Network, another film about a complicated man at the heart of a technological revolution, had departed, along with Leonardo di Caprio, and later Christian Bale. It is suggested that Jobs' widow lobbied di Caprio and Bale not to participate, and it's not hard to see why: Sorkin's script, paced like a train careening down a mountain, gives us a central figure who exploits his key staff, denies paternity of his young daughter (even while she's listening), manipulates an ex-lover, and can't bring himself to publicly thank the people whose work paved the way for the very product he is launching. The existence of the keyboard on which I'm typing this, according to Sorkin's movie, is tainted by a trail of bruised souls. Steve Jobs is also Danny Boyle's movie, the English director having taken the reins from Fincher. Boyle is what you might call an empathic-kinetic filmmaker: he loves his protagonists and wants us to love them too, at very high speeds from Renton in Trainspotting to Aron Ralston in 127 Hours, guys who behave with a share of selfishness, or at least immaturity. And Boyle makes some of the most alive films - not relentless but totally awake: the camera never stops unless the people in the frame have to. He's the perfect director to do something new for Sorkin's "walk and talk" signature, perhaps most familiar from being the preferred method of The West Wing's staff to make policy decisions and dinner dates alike.

Sorkin's material and Boyle's way with it meet their match in the magnificent performance Michael Fassbender gives as Jobs - he looks and sounds like him, but this is not just an impersonation. There are nuances here - of smiles within rages, of kindness amidst the kind of cutthroat business machinations that would suit a 1970s conspiracy thriller - that invite gratitude for the fact that bigger stars passed on this project. A less iconic actor playing an iconic contemporary figure gets to breathe whereas our perception of Leo or Batman might have been overwhelmed by the burden of their both being more famous than Jobs. (Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Michael Stuhlbarg also each do beautiful heavy lifting as the colleagues trying to get Steve to be as good a human being as he is a salesman.) They all make a terrifically entertaining movie, visually and aurally more interesting than any serious drama released this year (Daniel Pemberton's score should be noted for being a subtle sketch of what's going on inside the main character's head), touching on themes of creativity, power, and personal responsibility.

One of the most operatically moving television episodes ever made, 'The Two Cathedrals' (the Season Two closer of The West Wing), provides the perfect Sorkin moment. A character rages at God, from the floor of Washington's National Cathedral, no less; but shouting at the deity in Latin isn't enough for Sorkin - he has him light a cigarette just to stub it out with contempt. The moment feels both utterly exciting while also being totally ridiculous. Most writers aren't good enough to get away with being as bad as Sorkin sometimes is. That's a compliment, by the way.

He charges Jobs with immaturity, not venality. But his film is not really about Steve Jobs per se; but about certain kinds of creative people, who may take a little longer to grow up. In a nice bit of circularity, Steve Jobs is Sorkin's most mature work - so well written that it could easily be performed as a radio play. He admires Jobs for having the vision to say yes to the future; invites recognition for the little guy, care for the children, and the benefit of the doubt for the genius.