Movie review: Steve Jobs

By Peter Calder

Michael Fassbender is excellent as Steve Jobs.
Michael Fassbender is excellent as Steve Jobs.

If you are looking for a biography of the man commonly described as having invented the future, Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (doubtless due for festival showings) is probably the film for you. This dazzling drama certainly isn't.

Though their source material is Walter Isaacson's comprehensive authorised 2011 biography, published just days after the subject's death, director Boyle and prolific writer Aaron Sorkin don't even try to tell Jobs' whole story. What they have made is closer to Greek tragedy than biopic.

It distills the essence of Jobs into a three-act drama built around three product launches, the great acts of theatre in which Jobs specialised: the Apple Macintosh in 1984; the NeXT computer in 1988; and the jelly-hued iMac in 1998, which one character memorably describes as looking like "Judy Jetson's Easy-Bake Oven".

Even then, the film isn't about the launches " which, tantalisingly, we barely see " much less the products (if discussion of RAM and ports doesn't thrill you, never fear).

Rather, apart from a light sprinkling of flashbacks, it plays as a precisely choreographed series of encounters, shot in sequence in the dressing rooms, corridors and the wings of the three theatres where the events are staged.

Sorkin, who created The West Wing and wrote The Social Network, has always had a feel for the drama at the interface between public image and private reality. Jobs is ideal raw material: an arrogant, bullying, obsessive control freak who betrayed his friends, disowned his daughter (Lisa, a major character in all three acts) and cruelly mistreated those who loved him. When he says he's indifferent to whether people dislike him, he can't understand why anyone would find that remarkable.

But Steve Jobs is not just a hatchet-job counterbalance to the dim-witted hagiography of 2013's Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher, which took us from the garage in Portland, Oregon to the 2001 launch of the iPod. Rather, it is a dazzling portrait of a deeply flawed genius that compels from the opening frame and barely stops for breath.

Fassbender, in a role declined by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale, is mesmerising in a performance as good as any in his already-distinguished career. He doesn't look even vaguely like Jobs, but he inhabits the role so utterly that he becomes more real than the real thing.

He's matched step-for-step by Winslet as Jobs' right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (although the actress' faint Polish accent comes and goes a lot) and terrific supporting work from Rogen, Stuhlbarg and Daniels as the men who tried and failed to work with Jobs.

There are jarring moments (some tricksy visuals and a running gag about two people called Andy) and the ending regrettably flirts with the sentimentality so conspicuously absent otherwise. But this is an enthralling film. Computer nerds may grumble, but lovers of classy drama are well served.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Danny Boyle
Running time: 122 mins
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Dazzling drama, not dull biography.

- TimeOut

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