Perks of the Jobs

El­e­gant de­sign and ruth­less dis­ci­pline mark out Danny Boyle’s lat­est film, writes Steve Jobs would have ap­proved

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

Michael Fass­ben­der in Steve Jobs

STEVE JOBS Di­rected by Danny Boyle. Star­ring Michael Fass­ben­der, Kate Winslet, Seth Ro­gen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kather­ine Water­ston, John Or­tiz, Sarah Snook, Adam Shapiro, Maken­zie Moss. 15A cert, gen release, 122 min Who were those clap­ping seals who fell for the mes­sianic zeal of Steve Jobs? I ad­mit to lik­ing the things he made. This sen­tence was fin­ished on a ma­chine man­u­fac­tured by the com­pany Jobs co-founded. But the re­vival­ist fer­vour with which acolytes greeted his prod­uct launches would have de­fied the satir­i­cal pow­ers of Al­dous Hux­ley. It has a new han­dle! Aaaah! I’ve wet my­self.

Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, writer and di­rec­tor of this un­ex­pect­edly im­pres­sive quasi-biopic, have wres­tled a quandary into some­thing like sub­mis­sion. The film is highly sus­pi­cious of the cult of per­son­al­ity. Yet it would not ex­ist with­out it. No­body wants to watch a movie about the founder of Ever Ready or the man who in­vented the dis­pos­able ra­zor. Think how hard Sorkin had to work to get us in­ter­ested in the less-than­elec­tri­fy­ing Mark Zucker­berg in The So­cial Net­work.

The film-makers have wrig­gled their way free by making a pic­ture that is not really about Steve Jobs. Dis­tance is es­tab­lished im­me­di­ately by cast­ing Michael Fass­ben­der – who could hardly look less like Jobs if he were a woman – as the ir­ri­ta­ble, ob­ses­sive ti­tle char­ac­ter. Late in the film, we meet the adopted Jobs’s birth fa­ther and we find our­selves won­der­ing how a Syr­ian man man­aged to sire such an un­mis­tak­ably Euro­pean head.

The de­tails of the story are plucked from Wal­ter Isaac­son’s bi­og­ra­phy, but Boyle and Sorkin have cre­ated a height­ened version of Jobs and placed him in a point­edly ar­ti­fi­cial take on the real world. Jobs grasped where the tech­nol­ogy was go­ing, but he is still, per­haps, best cel­e­brated for his in­sis­tence on beau­ti­ful de­sign. He would, thus, surely have ad­mired the el­e­gant struc­ture that Sorkin has im­posed on his witty screen­play.

Steve Jobs takes place be­hind the scenes at three prod­uct launches (as we have al­ready noted, sec­u­lar masses to the Cult of Steve). The first, in 1984, brings the first Ap­ple Mac­in­tosh to the world. The sec­ond, in 1988, finds Jobs, re­cently sacked from his own com­pany, flog­ging the ulti- mately doomed NeXT Com­puter. The fi­nal act takes us to the un­veil­ing of the iMac in 1998. Where are the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad? Where is the ex­am­i­na­tion of Jobs’s de­cline from can­cer? Nowhere here. The late mogul would also have ad­mired Sorkin’s ruth­less dis­ci­pline.

At each event, Jobs en­coun­ters as­so­ciates and ad­vi­sors plucked from the same small group. Jeff Daniels is un­ex­pect­edly sym­pa­thetic as Jeff Scul­ley, the for­mer Pepsi Cola pres­i­dent who edged Jobs out of Ap­ple. Kather­ine Water­ston is de­cent, if flaky, as the mother of Steve’s in­ter­mit­tently ac­knowl­edged daugh­ter. Kate Winslet, de­spite a me­an­der­ing Pol­ish ac­cent, se­curely an­chors ev­ery scene as Joanna Hoff­man, the mar­ket­ing as­sis­tant who, al­most alone, was al­lowed to say “no” to Jobs. Seth Ro­gen is per­fectly cast as the leg­en­dar­ily de­cent Ap­ple co-founder Steve Woz­niak.

What we have, in short, is the script for a bril­liant three-act play. Boyle is to be hugely con­grat­u­lated for sup­press­ing his taste for cin­e­matic bravado and al­low­ing the drama to play out at its own pace. The only con­spic­u­ous vis­ual flour­ish (aside from one weirdly ex­plicit illustration of an anec­dote about Sky­lab) is to use dif­fer­ent stock for each act: in 1984 we enjoy the 16mm then used for TV pro­grammes; in 1988 we savour 35mm; in 1998 we look to the fu­ture with dig­i­tal im­agery.

Hav­ing left the ghastly sen­ti­men­tal­ity of the West Wing be­hind, Sorkin rev­els in con­struct­ing vi­cious barbs for an al­most un­remit­tingly mon­strous per­son­al­ity. Fass­ben­der spits the di­a­logue with a fe­roc­ity that seems no less sav­age for the char­ac­ter’s smug in­for­mal­ity. Sadly, the film does lose its nerve a lit­tle in the fi­nal mo­ments and al­lows Jobs a de­gree of re­demp­tion. It’s bet­ter than we could have hoped, for all that.

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