Past the Popcorn: Danny Boyle Directs Fast-Moving, Fast-Talking Steve Jobs

by Jeff Walls

The screenplay for the new biopic Steve Jobs was written by Aaron Sorkin, so it will instantly draw comparisons to 2010’s The Social Network, another movie written by Sorkin about a major personality in the world of computers and the Internet.  In fact, Social Network director David Fincher was originally attached to the project that was eventually taken on by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle.  The comparisons between the two movies are warranted for more than just their shared screenwriter and similar subject matter, though.

Perhaps the most memorable sequence in The Social Network is the whirlwind opening sequence that has Mark Zuckerberg planning and executing his revenge on the girlfriend that just dumped him.  It is a rhythmic, pulsing, and furiously-paced sequence that grabs the audience right away and pulls them along for the ride.  The movie then settles into a more relaxed pace, but by that time, we are already thoroughly hooked.

steve-jobs-insetSteve Jobs opens in a very similar way as the title character prepares for the 1984 product launch of the Macintosh computer.  Played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, Jobs barks out orders and makes unrealistic demands, refusing to listen when he is told that what he asks is impossible.  As he paces the stage and races through the halls of the auditorium between the stage and his dressing room, he interacts with the six other characters through whom the movie will tell his story.  There’s Lisa, the daughter he refused to admit was his own even after a paternity test proved otherwise, and her mother.  Maybe overwhelmed but never defeated by his constant demands and finicky behavior is his assistant Joanna, the person who seems to have his ear more than any other… which isn’t saying much.  There’s also his overworked chief engineer Andy Hertzfeld and Apple CEO John Sculley.  Finally, there’s his friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who just wants his buddy to recognize the people who are still hard at work on the company’s current computer system as he unveils the future.

The difference between The Social Network and this movie is that Steve Jobs keeps that whirlwind pace going from start to finish.  The characters rarely stop talking long enough for us in the audience to take a breath, and the Sorkin dialogue is so rapid-fire that it takes everything we in the audience have to keep up.  The level of attention the dialogue requires is worth it, however, because it is so well-written, clever, revealing, and often funny.  This is one intense ride we want to take.

The screenplay is more than just dialogue, though, and Sorkin takes a unique approach with this biopic in terms of its framing.  Instead of opening with Jobs and Wozniak inventing Apple in a garage and following them from there as the 2013 movie Jobs did, Sorkin tell the story entirely through the prism of three different events: the 1984 Macintosh launch, the 1988 NEXT launch, and finally the launch of the iMac in 1998. With the exception of a few brief flashbacks that are mixed in, the entire movie takes place on those three days.  Instead of learning what makes Jobs tick through watching him go through his entire life, we learn it through his interaction with the rest of the characters.  With the lone exception of his daughter’s mother who doesn’t show up in the 1998 segment, each of those characters gets their chance to interact with Jobs in each of the segment, allowing us to see how Jobs has grown—or not—strictly through his interactions with them.  It is unique and works very well for the movie.

Boyle definitely gets credit for creating and maintaining the movie’s frenetic pace.  The director also filmed the movie in a unique way, using 16mm film for the 1984 sequence, 35mm for the 1988 sequence, and shooting the 1998 sequence digitally.  This was done to mirror the technological advances in Apple’s technology over the years.

This non-stop, dialogue heavy movie would be a challenge for any actor, but every single performer in this movie was more than up to the task.  Michael Fassbender should be a no-brainer for Oscar voters, as should past-winner Kate Winslet as his weary, but devoted assistant.  Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Seth Rogen also deserve some consideration.

Steve Jobs is a remarkable accomplishment of filmmaking, writing, and acting.  It’s definitely a must-see movie in 2015.

Steve Jobs opens today at the AMC Pacific Place 11 in downtown Seattle. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? It’s reportedly gonna happen! Until then, eat local before you go!

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