If you’re going to interpret on film the searching mind of an indisputable genius, it helps not to make too many dumbass moves. On that basis, score a triumph for Steve Jobs, written, directed and acted to perfection, and so fresh and startling in conception and execution that it leaves you awed. Michael Fassbender rips through the role of the volcanic Apple co-founder and CEO who sucked at personal interaction but soared at transmogrifying personal computing and everything digital from music, animation (Pixar) and publishing to those iPhones we wear like a second skin. Fassbender’s Jobs is a tornado of roaring ferocity and repressed feeling. He’s also charming and seductively funny, which makes him dangerous if you get too close. Fassbender gives a towering performance of savage wit and limitless firepower. Is he really that good? Hell, yeah.
The script, by Aaron Sorkin, an Oscar winner for The Social Network, is sheer brilliance. Sorkin didn’t so much follow Walter Isaacson’s bestselling Jobs biography as absorb it into his DNA and release it with a daring structure and point of view all his own. Sorkin divides the movie into three time frames, each filmed in different formats by the gifted cinematographer Alwin Küchler and each involving the launch of a new Jobs product.
The first part, shot on low-res 16mm film, is set in 1984 in Cupertino, California, where Jobs, 29, debuts the Macintosh. The second part, presented on widescreen 35mm, unfurls at the sleek San Francisco Opera House in 1988 when Jobs, axed by Apple, presents his NeXT cube to mass indifference. The final part, utilizing high-def digital, takes place in 1998 at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, where Jobs, back calling the shots at Apple, gives the iMac its famed send-off. Dazed by the tech-speak and whirling innovations? Sorkin offers no sympathy. Echoing Jobs’ rush to the next big thing, Sorkin counts on you to keep up. It’s a challenge worth taking.
Cheers to master filmmaker Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 127 Hours) for directing Sorkin’s three-act play with the hurtling speed of a white-knuckle thriller. Boyle also knows how to fill the spaces between words so they reveal the emotions of the multitudes who come and go in Jobs’ hectic life. Sorkin moves characters around his cinematic chessboard (shades of Birdman) with little regard to whether they were actually present during Jobs’ backstage rampages. Still, their actions and reactions have the ring of harsh, abstract truth.