Who would’ve thought that the totally unconventional idea of structuring a biopic around three Apple product launches would make for a brilliantly compelling film? Especially if the biopic is about a man who is equally revered and disliked by many people around the world. Leave that up to screenwriter extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin, who pulls off this tremendous feat in spectacular fashion. Now, my knowledge of Steve Jobs is only rudimentary and from what I’ve read and seen of him so far, I don’t belong to the camp that despises him or calls him a douche bag. We all have been douche bags at one point or the other in our lives. We all have our flaws. I didn’t know the man personally so I am in no position to make a proper judgment of him, am I? I admired Jobs as an entrepreneur and this admiration in no way influenced my thoughts on this film.
As always, I always judge a film’s merits and demerits from a filmmaking standpoint. But I can say that the film did not attempt to glorify Jobs. Sorkin doesn’t waste any time setting it up and hurls us right into the energetic opening sequence where Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender), his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet) and computer scientist Andy Hertzfeld (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) are intensely mulling over an issue with the Apple Macintosh in 1984 right before it’s launch. The computer won’t say “Hello” because of an unexpected last minute error. Jobs wants Andy to fix it in 40 minutes which Andy thinks is impossible. Hoffman suggests that they cut the voice demo out which Jobs finds unacceptable. Meanwhile, Jobs is having trouble dealing with his ex-wife and a daughter that he is finding hard to believe is his own. Additional problems come up in the form of Steve Wozniak, his former colleague/friend. This is the first act.
Similar situations and heated exchanges would follow him again for the next two acts, which take place during 1988 (the launch of the NeXT computer) and 1998 (the launch of the iMac) respectively. The filmmakers do something smart here. They don’t show him launching these products or making his speeches. The focus here is entirely on the drama behind-the-scenes that take place before each launch. There is no one in Hollywood right now who writes intelligent dialogues the way Sorkin writes them. It’s such an exhilarating experience to hear the actors sing their dialogues that I’m always willing to overlook the fact that most of the actors sound the same. Now, Sorkin is responsible for delivering one of 2010’s best films The Social Network which was also about another arrogant, stubborn and ambitious guy armed with a grand vision of the future.
The Social Network too was a biopic that didn’t follow the textbook format and narrated those pivotal events in Mark Zuckerberg’s life in a unique way. It’s no wonder that he was called on to pen a similar biopic and again, relied upon to write it in a way that has never been done before. But this time I saw something in his writing that was never seen in any of his previous films before. An ability to make you feel. This is his most emotional screenplay to date. It’s Jobs’ relationship with his daughter that did the trick. I count two or three moments in the film where tears welled up in my eyes from all that emotion. I had a big lump in my throat by the end of the film. The ever reliable and exceptional Kate Winslet is superb as Hoffman. Apparently, they used to have a certain award at Apple for anyone who can stand up to Jobs and Hoffman had won it three times. This is mentioned in the film.
Their relationship is like that of a husband and wife’s and one wonders why the both didn’t marry each other. It’s even brought up in the film at one point. Jobs asks Hoffman why they haven’t slept with each other yet and she replies that they are not in love with each other. But clearly, they do love and respect each other and Hoffman was the only woman who could not only stand him but also manage him. I had great respect for this woman because she was with him through thick and thin. Sure, the makers may have fictionalized some aspects and events of Jobs’ life but I hear that most of it is pretty accurate and some of Jobs’ friends and colleagues’ statements have attested to this. One of the standout scenes in the film involves the former Apple CEO John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels), where he gives Jobs the reason why he fired him from Apple. It’s an excellent scene.
The film is very much Sorkin’s baby aided, of course, by Danny Boyle’s lively direction. Boyle doesn’t direct this one like he did 127 Hours or Trainspotting for that matter. This time, surprisingly, he has adopted a more restrained approach. No excessive camera or editing tricks. It’s all about the performances and the actors give it their all. This is Michael Fassbender’s best performance since Shame and I can’t imagine any other actor doing this role better than him. We’ve all heard reports about how Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio were initially approached but thanks heavens, they didn’t accept. I have a feeling that this might turn out to be my favorite film of 2015. Why this film was largely ignored by American audiences and turned into a major box office flop is something that I am unable to fathom.