Title: Steve Jobs
Director: Danny Boyle
Major Players: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan
Out Of Five: 4.5
Imagine being a director and getting your third choice of actor to play the lead in your film. Doesn’t sound great, does it? Except this is Steve Jobs, the director is Danny Boyle and the actor is no less than Michael Fassbender…….
This is one biopic with a highly publicised chequered history. David Fincher was originally in the director’s chair and his choice for the role was Christian Bale, but Fincher dropped out and Boyle took over the reins, offering the part to Leonardo di Caprio. But Leo opted to do The Revenant instead (we’ll see next year if that was a good move) so Boyle went back to Bale, who ultimately felt he just wasn’t right for it. Cue Fassbender. And you know what they say about third time lucky ……
Don’t expect a conventional bio-pic of the life of the Apple front man. It’s a film in three acts, each one culminating in a key moment in Jobs’ career, a major product launch. The Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. We’re never shown the actual launch: what we witness arew events behind the scenes, played out in real time. They each follow the same pattern, have similar components but take the Jobs story forward every time. There’s his thorny subject relationship with his daughter, the daughter he denies in the first act. There’s his working relationships with Steve Wozniack (Seth Rogan) and John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), as well as his marketing director, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). And each one contains at least one big showdown between Jobs and one of them – or somebody else.
The focus is Jobs and his personality and the man we see on screen would have been more than happy with that. In fact, he wouldn’t have been able to see any other way of telling the story. What we have here is an exceedingly talented man, one with vision, ambition and an infuriating knack of always being right. But it’s harnessed to a tyrant who takes ruthlessness to a whole new level of brutality, a megalomaniac for whom loyalty and hard work mean absolutely nothing. His childhood – he was adopted twice – is offered as a part explanation for this cold blooded detachment, but it isn’t the full story, although it does give us an insight into his most significant relationship in the film.
He’s never been close to daughter, Lisa. A bright toddler in the first third, she grows into an angry teenager in the final part and you can’t blame her. Damaged by his rejection in her early years, she still desperately wants a relationship with her father and she’s clearly inherited his intelligence. They will never be comfortable with each other, despite having Hoffman as a go-between, who is far better than her boss at communicating with the girl.
Fassbender is sensational as Jobs. Charismatic, commanding, a nightmare of a man to work with and utterly riveting. But it’s not just his film because the showdown scenes would fall apart if his co-stars weren’t up to the mark as well, and the searing confrontation between him and Jeff Daniels’ John Sculley fairly blazes off screen. So much that I swear if I’d touched it at that point, I’d have been thrown on my back by an electric shock.
Scenes like that are dependent on great dialogue and there’s no doubt that we’re watching an Aaron Sorkin script here. “Walk with me” doesn’t actually get said, but there are plenty of lengthy conversations taking place on the hoof. It’s as sharp and insightful as you’d expect, especially as he has such a compellingly complex central character to work with. But the challenge of writing something to be performed in real time gives it real discipline and precision as well.
Who’d have thought that business and internal politics could be so fascinating? In a business context, Jobs is regarded as a hero, but through Danny Boyle’s eyes we see an anti-hero, both in his professional and private life. It’s a massive achievement to make such an engrossing film from a character who is so unlikeable. You don’t have a scrap of sympathy for him, but you can’t take your eyes off him either.
Steve Jobs is released around the UK on Friday, 13 November and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 12 November.