Since I didn’t know the guy, I can’t really say if Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s new firecracker of a movie is accurate. I can say that it is, dramatically, one of the best things you will see in cinemas this year.
Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by the ever-reliable Boyle (127 Hours, Sunshine), plays out in three parts. Apart from a few flashbacks, we see Jobs backstage at three product launches during his career. The film is expertly staged, playing out like the most entertaining and brutal of Shakespearean dramas.
As Jobs ties his bowtie and prepares to launch the Macintosh in 1984, his personal life is messing with his mojo. Estranged lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is distressed over the paltry sum Jobs pays her and their alleged daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss) in child support. Jobs is worth millions, but offers up only hundreds per month because he doubts being the father.
Chrisann has some good arguments. A paternity test puts the likelihood of Jobs being the dad at over 94 percent, and Lisa looks an awfully lot like him. No matter to Jobs, who spends years fighting his fatherhood while reluctantly turning over more than the court mandated cash because part of him really likes Lisa. He even names a computer after her.
We see Steve Jobs at his very worst, a man so obsessed with the new gadgets his companies come up with that he wouldn’t face the reality of his fatherly duties. Lisa, portrayed at different ages by Moss (6), Ripley Sobo (9) and a show-stopping Perla Haney-Jardine (19) is a girl any dad would be proud of, but Jobs can’t really be bothered. He has a couple of goofy-looking computers to sell.
While Jobs won’t be a dad to his daughter, he tries to be one to Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the engineer who actually built the board that launched Apple computers. Mind you, Jobs isn’t a good father figure. While he claims he will always protect and nurture Wozniak, he fails to come through on key issues, including the acknowledgment of Wozniak and his team in the Apple legacy.
Fassbender’s Jobs is every bit that charming man we saw introducing computers, iPods and iPhones to drooling masses at Apple events. He had such nice, warm tendencies in public that it was hard to imagine him as the right bastard behind the scenes that his coworkers and employees claimed he was.
Unfortunately, his quick wit and ability to reason are often wielded as weapons against his perceived enemies, whether they be a justified Wozniak begging for recognition or Chrisann begging for money. As far as this movie is concerned, Jobs was a brilliant but not very nice man. In fact, he was a major dickweed.
The major coup in the Fassbender performance is that Fassbender makes Jobs somehow likeable. It’s easy to hate the man’s actions, and it’s also very easy to root for his redemption. Fassbender puts pedal to the metal with this performance, and he never lets up for the entire running time.
Say hello to Seth Rogen—actor! In his few pivotal scenes, Rogen breaks hearts as Wozniak, a good-natured, well-meaning man who obviously loves and admires Jobs, but can’t fathom his stubbornness. It’s a revelatory performance from a man usually relied upon for laughs. This time out, you’ll feel his character’s emotional pain and hurt.
Kate Winslet, even though her accent morphs from time to time, is equally compelling as Jobs’ confidant and mother figure, Joanna Hoffman. It’s an incredible performance. The same can be said for Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the advertising giant who essentially became Jobs’ boss. That relationship goes to combustible places, and Daniels blows up the screen.
Steve Jobs will make you forget Jobs, that other biopic that featured a heavily made-up Ashton Kutcher playing with an iPod. Fassbender and Boyle deliver the kind of movie Jobs deserved, warts and all. It’s a mesmerizing film about a complicated man.