Filmmaker Danny Boyle’s resume boasts “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later,” “127 Hours” and “Slumdog Millionaire” (for which he took home an Oscar for best director).
But even Boyle seems awed by his latest, “Steve Jobs,” a near-operatic look at the late Apple co-founder. The film opened Friday at the AMC Barrywoods and goes wide next weekend.
“I knew we had something extraordinary when Aaron Sorkin’s script first arrived,” Boyle said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “And it just kept getting better from there.”
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Sorkin (“The Social Network,” TV’s “West Wing”) tells Jobs’ story through three “acts,” each running in real time and set backstage at the media-frenzied debuts of various Apple products.
Recurring characters (played by Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlbarg) show up in each segment to interact with the imperious, visionary Jobs (Michael Fassbender). Covering a dozen years, the film examines their changing relationships and Jobs’ essentially unchanging personality.
“Aaron has a reputation for not reworking his material,” Boyle said. “But he was open to suggestions. He’s willing to work on material that at first looks intimidatingly complete … and the wonderful thing is his writing stretches and bends, but it never cracks.”
Sorkin’s writing illuminates a world that most of us can hardly fathom, Boyle said.
“Like an opera, this script takes you into an entirely different sphere. These are geniuses working with things I can’t understand — physics, math, algorithms — but this approach allows us to see them as both brilliant and as people with foibles like the rest of us. Aaron’s language unites us in the way the music in an opera does.”
Boyle said he initially wondered about the accuracy of Sorkin’s screenplay.
“I told myself, well, this feels true, but I’m going to check it out. And it was all true. Aaron worked with (Apple co-founder) Steve Wozniak, and that provided him with real insights.
“Plus, actors have their own bull**** detectors. There’s always that terrible moment when your lead actor says, ‘I don’t think my character would say that.’ But that never happened. Not only did the script feel true, it depicted parts of Jobs’ life and character in ways that a regular biopic or documentary couldn’t.”
The film’s emotional backbone is Jobs’ relationship with his illegitimate daughter, Lisa. For years Jobs denied he was the girl’s father and for nearly two decades viewed Lisa as a dirty secret.
“You know, if a screenwriter had invented the daughter thing most producers would have thrown it out as lazy dramatic thinking,” Boyle said. “It’s too easy to write something like that.
“But it was absolutely true. And it reveals a key to Jobs’ personality. Here was a guy who dealt brilliantly with wealth and fame but wasn’t able to reconcile himself to the fact that he was given away by his biological parents. This made him incredibly emotionally vulnerable, and he projected those issues onto his own daughter until they finally reconciled.”
A friendship developed between Wozniak and Rogen, who portrays him in the film.
“They are remarkably similar. Seth doesn’t look like Woz, but he is Woz. Woz is a math genius; Seth is a comedy genius.
“Woz wasn’t appreciated as much as Steve Jobs because he wasn’t a difficult man. He’s a warm man. Same thing with Seth. Comedy doesn’t have the prestige of drama. One of the film’s best lines is, ‘You can be gifted and decent at the same time.’ That’s the story on Woz and Seth.”
The ultimate success of “Steve Jobs” rests on the shoulders of the man portraying the title character. Boyle said that Fassbender absolutely nailed it.
“He’s an intuitive actor with extraordinary instincts. And completely uncompromising. When you cast Michael he goes on a journey and he brings you along.
“There’s always this moment, one particular role when an actor arrives, when he announces himself to the world. And this is Michael Fassbender’s great moment. I was there every day on the set, and I’ve been editing the film for six months, and I still don’t know how he did it.
“Aaron Sorkin is a singular writer with a special signature, but by the end of filming we weren’t listening to Aaron. We were listening to Michael. We were experiencing it all through him.
“This is acting on a whole different level. Jeff Daniels, Kate Winslet … they’re all great actors and even they admit it is one of the greatest performances they’ve seen.”
Opening this week
“Coming Home”: Director Yimou Zhang and his perennial leading lady, Li Gong, deliver a heartbreaker about a family torn apart by Mao’s Cultural Revolution. At the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts.
“Peace Officer”: Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s documentary — a big winner at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas — examines the militarization of law enforcement through the eyes of former Utah lawman Dub Lawrence, who has devoted his retirement to solving the murder of his son-in-law. At the Alamo Drafthouse.
“Bone Tomahawk”: More than two decades after “Tombstone,” Kurt Russell returns to the Western genre twice in the coming months. In January, we’ll see him in Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” But on Friday we’ll see him lead a posse out to rescue captives from cannibals in the independent “Bone Tomahawk.” With Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, David Arquette and Sean Young. At Town Center and on video on demand through your cable service.
Read more of freelance writer Robert W. Butler’s film features and reviews at ButlersCinemaScene.com.