'Steve Jobs': Does its innovative storytelling structure work?

'Steve Jobs,' was adapted from Walter Isaacson's biography for the screen by Aaron Sorkin. The film takes place in three acts, taking place around major events in Jobs's life. Will the storytelling device make the movie stand out from other 'based on a true story' films?

Francois Duhamel/Universal Pictures/AP
'Steve Jobs' stars Michael Fassbender (l.) and Jeff Daniels (r.).

Many movie fans probably think they know what to expect when it comes to a biopic. The trappings of the genre are so well-known that they’ve been parodied in films like “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," a comedy that poked fun at these conventions.

But anyone going to see the upcoming film “Steve Jobs,” based on the 2011 Walter Isaacson biography of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and visionary who founded Apple Inc., will find a different structure than most would expect from a movie about someone’s life, according to reviewers. “Steve Jobs” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his work on “The Social Network” (also a film about a tech visionary who changed the world and his personal conflicts with those around him) has reportedly shaped the movie into three distinct acts. Viewers see Jobs as the Macintosh is revealed in 1984; when the NeXT Computer came out in 1988; and when the first iMac was released in 1998.

“Steve Jobs” actress Kate Winslet, who portrays one one of Jobs's employees, recently discussed the creative decision. "Steve Jobs" is "deliberately" not a traditional biopic, Ms. Winslet told the Associated Press. “Aaron Sorkin decided that there was no interest for him in writing it in that way.” So the writer wove his story around three key moments in Jobs’s life. 

“Steve Jobs” is predicted to be a contender for the Oscars race, which is heating up as the end of the year approaches. But Danny Boyle's film, which stars Michael Fassbender as Jobs, will most likely have some competition from other films based on true stories. The movie “Spotlight,” which details how Boston Globe reporters investigated the Massachusetts Catholic sex-abuse scandal, is widely viewed as a contender for Academy Awards, as is “Bridge of Spies,” the new movie by Steven Spielberg that tells the true story of how a lawyer became involved in the Cold War.

“The Revenant,” which depicts the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)'s survival after being injured and left for dead in the Dakota Territory in the 19th century, was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who directed last year’s Oscar best picture winner, "Birdman," so naturally “Revenant” is anticipated by industry watchers. Director Tom Hooper’s “The Danish Girl,” about a woman who is believed to have been one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery, is also getting buzz, as is director Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea,” about a ship that is wrecked by a whale. 

So when “based on a true story” doesn’t separate a film from the crowd, will the screenplay's structure make “Steve Jobs” stand out? The device has received mixed reviews from critics, with Indiewire writer Eric Kohn writing that “structurally, Sorkin has delivered a masterwork of narrative economy” and Variety writer Justin Chang writing, “Sorkin’s screenplay has mastered the art of conveying a character’s essence … by compressing the most relevant data into one significant time frame.” But Entertainment Weekly writer Chris Nashawaty writes, “There’s something too mannered and convenient in this three-part setup.”

“Steve Jobs” comes to theaters in a limited release on Oct. 9 and will be in wide release starting Oct. 23.

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