Rather than an over-encompassing biopic, Steve Jobs instead focuses on three separate pivotal reveals throughout Jobs' life: the Apple Macintosh launch, the NeXT Computer launch, and the iMac launch. The movie is composed like a three-act play, bringing the same players to the fore at each act and also forcing the characters to interact and choreograph their drama within staged confines with a few flashbacks interspersed to give depth to the present. The three sections are each 40-minute portions shot in real time, which add to the dynamism of the film. The setting is a bit of a conceit of course. Sorkin openly plays with the chronology of events and manipulates people in something like a musical round that centers around the theme of Jobs.
Sorkins is far more present in the movie than Boyle. The dense rapid-fire script alludes to the hectic hum and freneticism of Sorkin's The West Wing (even down to his oft-used "walk with me"), and Jeff Daniels (who was previously in Sorkin's Newsroom) appears the most comfortable with the deft flow of words. Sorkins dazzles and captures us more than Boyle, who flickered across my mind when the uncomfortable montage segues between the three acts flashed their way across the screen. Unlike the sets and Jobs' mantra, they're neither aesthetically pleasing nor wanted.
There's hardly a sour play in the physical performances however. Although criticized for looking far from the part, Michael Fassbender brings all his usual intensity into playing the title role and never gives us reason to believe otherwise. Kate Winslet is superb as always (despite a slight dalliance in her accent which oddly fluctuates -- possibly due to the shooting schedule which required the cast to rehearse and shoot each act separately), and while I look forward to the day I see Katherine Waterston play someone sane, it's undeniable that she's extremely good at acting crazy.
Sometimes, however, it's unclear what Sorkin and Boyle want us to take away from the man and the movie. There's a clear theme of the desire for control apparent in the first act, but it quickly dwindles away by the end. Sorkin's script is comprehensive, but it also means that we see more of Jobs throwing tantrums rather than understanding what kind of charismatic quality (if any) was the impetus to inspiring the people around him. What drives him to protect the ones he feels fatherly towards while at the same time evincing a disability to empathize? These are questions the film skims over just enough to bring our attention to the lack of answers. Sorkin is so skilled in making us believe how cruel Jobs is in the first act that we're almost unable to believe any reconciliation that happens in the third act as much as we may desire it.
What Sorkins achieved previously in The Social Network was humanizing a man and a business that had reached iconic proportions. The same is done in Steve Jobs as we are shown what it means to be a creator. When you become a man as large in life as Steve Jobs, what is it that becomes the most important about a man's identity?
As much as I've lauded Sorkins (who is sure to receive an Oscar nod for his screenplay), there is one particularly glorious rain-soaked scene that may have been my favorite moment. Boyle has an eye for patterns and an appreciation for the design consistent to Jobs' persona. The constant dances between past and present has a potential to be confusing, but Boyle adroitly handles the juggling in a way that enhances both scenes. At cinematographer's Alwin H. Kuchler's suggestion, each time period was filmed in different formats: the rough 16mm for the self-made garage aesthetic of the first launch, a liquidy break from the past with 35 mm, and then digital for the final section.
Kudos to composer Daniel Pemberton, who caught my attention with his work in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (one of the only bright points of that movie). His music here is a wonderfully different departure from the other movie and utilizes elements that not only help drive the energy of the movie forward but also hint at the darker flawed elements of the man behind it. Like the different formats, Pemberton worked with Boyle to create three different types of music for the movie. Boyle originally named the acts: "Vision", "Revenge", and "Wisdom". For the first, Pemberton used only synthesizers and equipment available at the time of the launch. For the second, which is set in an opera house, Pemberton composed an opera to also reflect the role of Jobs as a performer. For the third, he used Apple software called Logic. It sounds gimmicky, but it works. Mainly because he recognizes the importance of Sorkin's words (Pemberton is quoted as calling Sorkin's screenplay the "libretto" of the film) and allows the words to breathe while using his music to fully appreciate the realization of Steve Jobs' intent to combine the artistic with technological. I hope he also gets award recognition for his work.