Before we start, I have not seen the previous Steve Jobs film with Ashton Kutcher. I have seen only this latest one with Danny Boyle directing, and Aaron Sorkin screenwriting.
And this Steve Jobs is not a simple biopic. It is a polished work of art.
Let me try to describe the difference.
A typical biopic starts with the beginning of our hero’s genius; it ends with his eventual success (or alternately death). Aaron Sorkin’s previous biopic, The Social Network, begins with Mark Zuckerberg hitting upon the idea of setting up a new website, and it ends with the success of Facebook. Indeed, despite the occasional retrospective framework (see The Iron Lady) most biographic films stick to a strictly linear framework, and aspire to a factual representation of reality. The illusion is that a camera has somehow magically penetrated the life of the represented person, and that the events unfold chronologically before our eyes, supplying us with an orderly narrative.
Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs does not work like that. It is inherently theatrical. What we are presented with is a series of studies of Steve Jobs’s character rather than a straightforward path to fame. We see three variations of the same scene: Steve Jobs launching a new product. The launch of the first Mac comes arguably after Steve Jobs has been recognized as a driving force behind Apple. The launch of the revamped Mac takes place just before Steve Jobs becomes a global phenomenon. Each product launch seems to be a witness of Jobs’s life unraveling in all possible directions. The film dances across space and time with ease, revealing to the startled viewers the background of the characters’ motivations and convictions. Steve Jobs’s relationship with his daughter Lisa is portrayed with particular care and nuance: it damns him and redeems him at the same time.
The acting is phenomenal. Kate Winslet becomes Joanna, Jobs’s eternally frustrated assistant, whereas Sorkin’s favourite Jeff Daniels, who is known from his starring role in The Newsroom (a tv series Sorkin authored), becomes Jobs’s sympathetic and much abused Boss. Michael Fassbender does a spectacular job of being Jobs himself, the creative control freak.
Whereas Aaron Sorkin’s biopic about Zuckerberg gave one the impression that genius was inexorably connected to lack of social skills, Steve Jobs shows that lack of social skills is a challenge to be overcome rather than a benefit. The most touching moment of the film is when Steve Jobs for once decides to prioritise the personal over the important.
Danny Boyle’s biography of Steve Jobs does not allow us to rest on one side of the genius/asshole dichotomy. Aaron Sorkin’s script insists on showing us both. I saw it yesterday, and I already want to see it again.