Steve Jobs review – not just another biopic

The closing day of the BFI Film Festival was one tinged with sadness – the thrill was to be very soon over for another year, and it was time to leave the land of free press screenings and red carpets and return to the looming essay deadlines. But what a closing day it was, with the screening of highly anticipated and somewhat controversial Steve Jobs.

Genius. That’s what it’s called when a film about a man in a roll neck jumper reduces you to tears in its final scene. As the film reaches its culminating point, the 122 minutes all make sense and give way to a final euphoric scene, and produces such an effect on viewers that proves its point. This may very well be one of the most groundbreaking films of the year – of our generation even.

I think it’s fair to say we were all starting to get a bit sick of biopics. It’s becoming more and more rare to see a film that isn’t based on one true story or another, telling the tale of an outstanding mind or recounting the tragic events of a historical foundation. This doesn’t mean they aren’t good films – think The Imitation Game, Truth, and The Social Network to name but a few.

But it does imply the presence of a kind of safety net. If the story is good enough to tell, then surely the film has a head start – providing at least interesting content based on real life facts, if bringing nothing else to the table. So what makes Steve Jobs stand out – as not the first biopic on the late CEO of Apple, but the third of its kind?

The fact is, Steve Jobs isn’t just another biopic. The film marks a turning point, the birth of a work of art representative of a generation. It not only depicts one of the most influential men in all of our lives but the film itself teaches a lesson in storytelling and filmmaking, inspiring viewers of all backgrounds everywhere. The controversy arising from the film stems from the family’s objections, in part to the making of the film at all but also to the way in which Jobs’ character was presented in the early stages of his Apple career.

Michael Fassbender takes on the hefty role of Jobs himself and, whether or not his portrayal is an accurate one, it’s one that takes our breath away and gives the film a weight so heavy you can feel it coming off the screen in waves. We see in the film the classic traits of an Aaron Sorkin script, who also gave us the 120 minutes of The Social Network: the dialogue sears through the film’s full-length with never a lull, Sorkin’s writing crafts a story tense and funny which is simply captivating.

Some films tend to lose the viewer when the emphasis is on the dialog, but here one scene portraying no more than a heated debate between two middle-aged men somehow managed to get my heart racing – the pivotal argument between Fassbender and Daniels feels like a dance of intellect. The leading cast moves through the genius scripting as a knife through butter.

Added to Sorkin’s storytelling and the thing that separates Steve Jobs from the Social Network is the direction. What could have become a quintessentially dark and heavy David Fincher number is, in fact, a Danny Boyle child through and through. There is tangible electricity running through the film, making for a heterogeneous kinetic package bringing together all forms of storytelling and resulting in one of the most exciting films this year.

The decision to set the majority of the film in the minutes before product launches lends itself to an undertone of nervous anticipation, as we experience the stirrings of stage fright. It’s a controlled chaos that Fassbender always seems to be manipulating to his own tune – indeed, as we are consistently reminded, Jobs never starts late.

Fassbender’s portrayal of Jobs’ cold professionalism is made two-dimensional through the complex emotional relationship we see between Jobs and his daughter, Lisa. Poignantly, Lisa was the only of his direct family members portrayed in the film, and the only one who didn’t object to its making. The evolution of their character dynamics reaches its touching climax in the closing scenes of the film, with Jobs promising Lisa that one day she can replace her talismanic Walkman with a device to hold thousands of songs – thus the iPod was born.

Every element interacts in the film creating a cohesive and hypnotizing self-contained world, which balances between on the one hand a fictional and creative universe and on the other it in fact depicts a reflection on this man’s life and on the actual foundations of our society. What we are given is a visually stunning and incredibly skilfully scripted film that can be enjoyed as a stand-alone piece of art. Each member of the cast plays their part as a single instrument in the orchestra of the film – much like the orchestra that Jobs’ conducts in his creative vision.

★★★★★

Co-written with Georgia O’Brien, originally published on Epigram

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