“Steve Jobs” isn’t the latest rise-to-fame biopic that purports to be faithful to its subject but feels phony. It is a whirling blend of truth and invention, a condensed view of the backstage life of the famously brilliant, insanely driven Apple cofounder and computer visionary. It’s captivating.
Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) directs with his usual brio, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin smartly adapts Walter Isaacson’s Jobs biography. Michael Fassbender portrays Jobs, presented aa heartless, controlling egomaniac and a magnetically big-dreaming trailblazer determined to be extraordinary.
Set mostly in San Francisco, the story consists of three 40-minute segments, each shot on a different type of film and each centering on a product launch.
In 1984, Jobs introduces Apple’s Macintosh computer. In 1988, the exiled from Apple Jobs unveils the failure-bound NeXT computer (“the coolest black cube you’ve ever seen”). In 1998, the iMac debuts.
Each act, as in “Birdman,” transpires in a theatrical setting in which the crazed Jobs prepares for his stage appearance while figures from his professional and personal worlds weave in and out. Many rebuke him for treating them abominably.
The jewel box of supporting characters includes Apple cofounder and nuts-and-bolts wizard Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), Jobs’ devoted marketing chief and right-hand woman, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Macintosh development-team member Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and Jobs’ ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston).
The latter arrives with a daughter, Lisa, who, despite the DNA evidence, Jobs won’t acknowledge as his child. A computer he names after her gives the movie a semi-Rosebud element.
Boyle doesn’t have the edge of David Fincher, who directed Sorkin’s Facebook-themed “The Social Network.” The generally cynical Sorkin gets sentimental when depicting Jobs’ eventual effort to connect with his daughter, and the film’s final scenes contain an emotional falseness.
Yet the movie is an original, entertaining ride as it creatively enhances samples of Jobs psyche and considers what constitutes success.
Boyle’s zesty energy works well with Sorkin’s brisk, brainy dialogue.
Constantly talking, walking, demanding the stars, and, like Sorkin’s Mark Zuckerberg, alienating those who truly matter to him, Fassbender is amusing, sad, and spellbinding. He even, in his turtleneck phase, looks like Jobs.
Winslet, Stuhlbarg and especially Daniels, too, are superb. Rogen gets the best lines (“Kindness and genius aren’t binary,” Woz tells Jobs) and makes them shine.
Three and a half stars
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Danny Boyle
Running time 2 hours, 2 minutes