Obsessed, relentless, merciless, “Steve Jobs” is a cleverly designed, brilliantly staged biopic. In this film, the late co-founder of Apple is shown as a genius and a nasty monster. But the man’s heartbreaking flaws make him and his accomplishments all the more bright.
Danny Boyle, the British director of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “28 Days Later,” loves to inject energy onto the screen. Working from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s already electrifying script, Boyle interprets scenes and dialogue with a cinema master’s animating touch.
Boyle’s films tend to have much running in them. In “Steve Jobs,” the characters in Jobs’ circle scramble behind their perpetually moving leader. It’s a visual metaphor for a man whose mind never stops.
Most of the film happens backstage during three Jobs product launches. It’s a daring method of storytelling, but it works, breathlessly.
“Steve Jobs” opens with the 1984 Macintosh personal computer launch. In the hyperactive backstage atmosphere, there’s a problem with the Mac’s voice recognition technology. Jobs gives Macintosh development team member Andy Hertzfeld an ultimatum. “Fix it,” Jobs says.
Jobs doesn’t ask people to do things. He doesn’t suggest. He doesn’t negotiate. He demands. He’s a leader whom others must serve.
In a filmmaking age that’s been golden for biopics — including Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote” and Jamie Foxx in “Ray” — Irish actor Michael Fassbender’s charged depiction of Jobs trumps them all.
Like “Steve Jobs” director Boyle, Fassbender is known for intensity. His portrayal of the brutal, mad slave master in “12 Years a Slave” contributed much to that Louisiana-set drama’s unforgiving power. Fassbender as Jobs exhibits similar meanness and determination. The actor is super-focused, resolutely in character during a performance that inspires admiration and alarm.
The brilliant contributions Fassbender, Boyle and Sorkin make to the film coalesce into attention-demanding and, in sparing doses, moving cinema. The film certainly will receive many nominations during the upcoming awards season.
As great as Fassbender’s work is, supporting characters stand up forcefully in the intimidating presence of their fearless leader. The supporting cast’s interaction with Fassbender provides essential framework for his performance and the revelations therein.
An unrecognizable Kate Winslet co-stars as Macintosh marketing chief Joanna Hoffman. She is the devoted, crucial right-hand woman to the insensitive-to-the-point-of-cruel Jobs. As her character supports and spars with Jobs, Winslet communicates a mix of love for Jobs and the pain working for him must have provoked.
Seth Rogen, an actor usually associated with comedy, appears as Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder. Wozniak keeps reappearing, taunting Jobs with embittered demands of legacy acknowledgment for his contribution to Apple. The Wozniak-Jobs exchanges, like the recurring arguments Jobs has with his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), are more examples of the film’s dazzling dialogue.
“Steve Jobs” isn’t just a biopic beyond any biopic seen before. It’s a film unlike any film seen before.
Prepare to be knocked out.