Writer: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay) Walter Isaacson (book)
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss
Running time: 122mins
What’s the story: Wonder and warts and all account of the legendary Apple CEO, unafraid to show the at times shockingly cold heart of a man who revolutionised the communication age. Fassbender, replacing Leonardo Di Caprio and Christian Bale, delivers a layered, balanced performance as the mercurial Jobs, with Kate Winslet similarly impressive as his Marketing partner and all-round conscience Joanna Hoffman. Unconventionally based backstage at three different product launches spanning 1984 to 1998, The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin and Brit director Danny Boyle demonstrate how a successful biopic should be made.
What’s the verdict: When someone’s Head of Marketing also acts as their conscience you know that person has people issues. Even when that Head of Marketing is brought to life with a warm, best-in-ages performance from Kate Winslet.
If Danny Boyle’s latest is anything to go by, Steve Jobs had issue with anyone who wasn’t Steve Jobs. Including his partner Steve Wozniak (a cuddly Rogen), treated with loving condescension (possibly only allowed into the inner circle because of his first name?).
And his ex-boss John Scully (Daniels, quietly powerful), a father figure for the adopted Apple figurehead and also rival for the throne.
And his daughter Lisa (Moss, Sobo and Jardine) whose paternity the multi-millionaire contested after the courts declared him her dad while his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Waterston) cashed welfare checks.
Why then spend two hours with someone who ironically might be best described as an android? Because this feels like the closest we’ll get to the man who understood emotional attachment to things was as important as what they could do.
It certainly feels closer than Alex Gibney’s surprisingly shapeless documentary Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine or the Ashton Kutchner 2013 hagiography Jobs.
Jobs as envisioned by Boyle and Sorkin is 2001’s HAL 9000: brilliant, cold, visionary and, despite himself, human. And charming.
Movies like anti-heroes who can command attention and whether intimidating brilliant programmers, approving unethical workarounds to faulty software, using skinheads as extras in the groundbreaking Ridley Scott Apple Macintosh advert, or comparing said damp squib Macintosh to the Allies winning WW2, Jobs’ showmanship is electrifying to watch. All assisted by grandiose backdrops of symphony halls and opera houses.
Fassbender exudes just the right balance of magnetism, drive and woolly metaphor to convey how someone marshalls brilliant people to do brilliant work, plus a troubled humanity that means despite himself he forms a touching bond with Lisa.
On one level the plot structure is storytelling 101: two strikes and a final hit. But, with a man for whom work was everything, setting the film backstage at the launch of the Apple Macintosh, the aborted NeXT Cube and the breakthrough iMac is a canny approach, with Jobs slowly moving from stiff-necked suits to his jeans and turtleneck geek superhero costume.
Deftly woven into the hectic preparations are biographical asides, unobtrusive prophecies and flashbacks to key moments in Jobs’ life, the best being his botched coup against former mentor Sculley.
Echoing Alejandro González Iñárritu’s energy on the superficially similar Birdman, but absent the tricksiness and with a story worth telling, director Boyle shoots with different formats and makes a triumvirate of press events as exciting as the opening chase in Trainspotting, as transcendental as moments of Sunshine and as uncomfortable as that bit in 127 Hours.
There is a lot more story to tell here. The film ends before the triumph of the iPod and iPad and subsequent controversies over Chinese factory suicide rates, Microsoft barely gets a mention, while Jobs’ other kids are dropped outright.
But, this is a compelling look at the birth of the home technology age and one not very nice man at its centre.