Netflix UK film review: Steve Jobs
Ivan Radford | On 18, Mar 2016
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Katherine Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stahlburg
Watch Steve Jobs online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Years ago, a man changed the world by introducing it to the Apple Macintosh. Part-designer good, part-useful tool, it paved the way for a revolution in our relationship with technology; a personal computer so personal it could say hello. It may sound like an overstatement, but one only needs to glance around to see the impact Steve Jobs has had upon our everyday lives; whether Apple-made or not, a large portion of society now interacts primarily through handheld devices that we’re told originated in one man’s mind – a place of creative ingenuity, commercial savvy and ruthless ambition.
It’s no wonder, then, that Steve Jobs the movie has been made. The biopic feels like a natural successor to David Fincher’s The Social Network, the second part, if you will, in an ongoing saga of mythologising key figures from our modern history. Aaron Sorkin, who has written both, has become something of an official chronicler of these era-defining men, his recognisably stylised speech adding to the sense that we’re witnessing legends being crafted on screen.
Danny Boyle’s film is a triumph because it tries to do precisely the opposite of that.
Rather than give us the hagiographic take on the well-known name, Steve Jobs spends every second of its runtime cutting its subject down to size. We discover almost immediately that he’s imaginative and ambitious – and also an asshole. He refuses point blank to give credit to those who built the Apple company before him, much to the annoyance of Steve Wozniak (Rogen). He threatens engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) to make sure his computer says hello during its launch, no matter what it takes. And he flat-out denies that Lisa, a girl deemed 90 per cent likely to be his daughter, is in any way his.
One of the few to stand up to his petulant ego and get away with it is his assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), who is as honest as she is loyal. “What’s the problem?” he asks between one of many fraught exchanges with those around him. “I don’t know,” she retorts, “but I’m sure it can be traced back to you.”
The cast are uniformly excellent as their real-life characters, from Rogen – proving, once again, that he’s nuanced performer who should be taken seriously more often – to Jeff Daniels as Jobs’ weary mentor, Apple CEO John Sculley, and sometime firer.
Fassbender towers over them all as the iconic figure, shaking off any niggling thoughts that he doesn’t look like Jobs in an instant. “What do you do?” demands Wozniak, as they stand in the orchestra pit in a theatre. “I play the orchestra,” comes the magnanimous reply. He embodies that anti-social arrogance physically as well as verbally, from his wolfish grin to his cold stare. He’s in every scene of the film and you can feel the pressure of his presence.
That’s part of Sorkin’s secret: while Steve is the star of the show, it’s never at the expense of the others. In fact, it’s their perspectives that we ultimately walk away with, showcasing Steve’s selfish pride as a flaw rather than a benefit. The other is the script’s taut, three-act structure, which only presents the action taking place just before the major press events of his career: the 1984 Macintosh launch, his educational follow-up, NeXT, and the iMac, a few years later. That theatrical device gives an urgency and a momentum to the fast-paced montage of confrontations, but it also places an emphasis on the personal life of Jobs versus the public sheen put on display. Apple products may be gloss and glamour, but these are the behind-the-scenes components he was so determined to lock away in the “end to end” design.
The cast revel in the writer’s typically snappy dialogue, which flashes back within its artificial confines to tremendous effect – and finds both humour amid the tension and heart amid the cables. Thanks to a strong turn from Perla Haney-Jardine as Jobs’ daughter in the final act, when the inevitably clunky mentions of iPads and iPods arrive, they’re not sales pitches but emotional pledges, building up a personal meaning behind each product.
But Danny Boyle emerges as the core of the whole piece. It takes a strong director to tackle a Sorkin screenplay and the Trainspotting and Sunshine veteran makes it his own. His camera is thrillingly dynamic, always moving forward like his enterprising subject, adding action to the static indoor locations. His frames are full of Dutch angles, adding an edge to the order and precision of the Apple production line; a striking visual echo of the chaos and claustrophobia that flood the minutes before the crucial product launches. Even the stock used for each act varies, from the soft 16mm of Jobs’ rebellious youth and the cinematic feel of 35mm for 1988’s dramatic comedown, to the the crisp HD of digital for 1998’s finale.
If the visuals are the perfect accompaniment for Aaron’s script – Elliot Graham’s editing deserved an Oscar – it’s Boyle’s ability with actors that gives the film’s processor extra power. Rehearsing each stage in-depth before shooting, the ensemble click smoothly together, with Winslet, in particular, whose Hoffman has a complex blend of Polish, Armenian and American accents, adding a touch of engaging humanity to all the back-stabbing. The result is a gripping, fascinating study of a man and a machine that has shaped the 21st Century – precisely because it avoids singing their praises. For every blow to its subject’s myth on-screen, Steve Jobs is another testament to the filmmaker’s talent behind it. The designer may be an American legend, but this filmmaker is a British national treasure.
Steve Jobs is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.