If you watched the rather poor recent Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher in the lead role you might be scared off backing back to this particular well for a second helping. Understandable. But I am here to tell you that this Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) film is heads and shoulders above that other one about one of the brains behind the mega corporation Apple.
There are several reasons for the quality of this film. First and foremost is the all in performance by lead Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, X-Men: First Class). If you are familiar with Fassbender’s previous turns in films like Inglorious Basterds, 12 Years a Slave, Shame, and Hunger you know he is not scared to play tough roles and he is a full commitment type actor. So it really isn’t surprising that he would take on the job of portraying one of the least likable characters to come to the screen this year.
There is no other way to put it other than in this film Steve Jobs is shown to be a total prick. Self-absorbed, arrogant, insensitive, and nasty are some of the words you can use to describe the man at the center of this film. Despite all this you cannot but give the guy props for being one of the main geniuses behind Apple. No matter how badly he behaves Fassbender brings to the screen a man who is totally watchable. Every moment he is on the screen you can’t take your eyes off the guy. No matter if he is verbally abusing an underling, neglecting his family especially his daughter Lisa (played at different ages by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine) who he even denies is his daughter in the beginning, taking credit for work he hasn’t done, or destroys his friendships with people like Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan – Pineapple Express, Superbad). No matter the emotion or situation his character is feeling or involved in, Michael Fassbender adds several layers to ever scene. This is not one note portrayal, which it could have obviously been. Jobs becomes an antihero not just because of his brilliance and drive, but because Fassbender allows you to see the self-loathing that was part of the man.
Another reason this is a watchable film is the script by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has gained the reputation of a love him or hate him kind of writer. Through his work on television shows like The Newsroom and The West Wing or films like The Social Network (which featured another unlikable male lead) and Moneyball he has proven himself a master of dialogue. Sorkin, whether based on reality or not, has taken Steve Jobs and created a character that is riveting to watch. The dialogue comes fast and furious and is equal parts witty, cutting and sharp – typical Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin, using Walter Isaacson’s novel as his source material, has created an almost playlike film that is divided into three distinct sections. Each centers around a product launch Jobs’ headed. First was 1984’s Macintosh, then comes 1988’s NeXT and finally iMac in 1998. As each launch approaches Jobs does battle with family, co-workers and friends including Lisa, Wozniak, lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson – Michael Clayton, Inherent Vice), and Jobs’ marketing director and more importantly his long-time confidante, Joanna Hoffan (Kate Winslet – The Reader, Revolutionary Road).
Besides a masterful turn by Fassbender his supporting cast surrounds his excellence with performances that show they were up to snuff. Kate Winslet keeps piling up strong performances. Seth Rogan surprised me bringing to life a man who Jobs leaves largely in the shadows. The best dramatic performance of his career. Jeff Daniel (from television’s The Newsroom) is his usually steady self as a man who was once a friend of Jobs’ then becomes an adversary.
As for the director, Danny Boyle for the most part keeps the ship steady. He does show signs of not totally trusting the fact that Aaron Sorkin’s pointed script is enough to make a good film in that at certain points he has inserted some distracting and unnecessary cinematic flairs. Thankfully these do not overshadow the acting performances or delightful verbal back and forths.
In the end this is a very solid film which might earn Fassbender some attention when it comes to Oscar season. It is not a sublime film, but one that is worth your time and money.