Technically this may be a Danny Boyle film, but this movie belongs to Aaron Sorkin: It’s his masterpiece. Some critics have complained that this is a talking movie, a backstage drama. They couldn’t be more right. It’s a soaring, engaging, intricately choreographed film crammed with conversations, fights, and even touching exchanges. It’s thrilling talk, so much so that at one point Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, the only leading man who matters) spells the programming out self-consciously. Why is it, he asks, that just before every product unveiling, everybody goes to the bar and comes back and tells me exactly what they think of me? The film is so self-assured that after explaining the main joke, we laugh and the movie keeps rolling beautifully forward.
Sorkin’s thefts and methods are Shakespearean in scope. He’s taken a larger-than-life real person, drawn directly from Walter Isaacson’s popular biography, like the Bard stole from the novels of his day, and then bent real events to fit his needs. Then, like Shakespeare, he’s opened up a field of themes rather than beat some single horse to death. He’s made Jobs both despicable and amazing — though it’s ultimately a sympathetic portrayal of the man. The three-act screenplay tries to square the egotism and cruelty of Jobs against an abiding drive to make a difference in the world. He’s both large and grotesquely tiny in his concentration — at least until people, like his long-neglected daughter, Lisa, show him something he wants to see.
Boyle’s directorial methods are mostly disciplined. His cameras rove when they need to, and he uses CGI and some weird subliminal foreshadowing, just because he can’t help imitating the mannerist 1970s directors he admires, such as Nicholas Roeg; Boyle famously used three formats — 16 mm, 35 mm, and digital cameras — to shoot the film. What’s genius about it, though, is that it doesn’t get in the way of great actors talking with heat, managing to convey occasional sweetness during this brief chronicle of a glorious tyrant.