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Michael Fassbender portrays the pioneering founder of Apple in ‘Steve Jobs’, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin. Set backstage in the minutes before three iconic product launches spanning Jobs' career, beginning with the Macintosh in 1984, and ending with the unveiling of the iMac in 1998, the film takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Steve Jobs
Written by
Aaron Sorkin
Directed by
Danny Boyle
Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen

Two years ago, an unprecedented rash of big-screen jerks flooded the all-important fall movie season. Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska and Blue Jasmine all focused on an impressive range of bastards, putzes and assholes.

But while each featured award-worthy performances from actors brave enough to embrace the antihero, none of those impressively unlovable characters can stand next to Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs, cinema's new SOB benchmark.

As the demanding, egotistical, vicious, manipulative and prickish genius behind Apple, Fassbender delivers a Jobs who is magnetic in his contemptibility. He threatens subordinates, shoves his family aside, rips apart friendships, carries on a 19-year-long game of emotional abuse with his most loyal confidante and takes credit where little or none is due. And through it all, we can't stop watching him.

Story continues below advertisement

Thanks to Fassbender's revelatory performance – a carefully calibrated mix of pride, self-loathing, frustration, arrogance and near-visceral self-righteousness – Jobs comes across as a captivating monster, a dictator in a black turtleneck who is impossible to ignore.

Whether or not that's who Steve Jobs actually was is a different matter. As he did with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin again takes the idea of a genius and twists it to his own gains. While Jobs was known for his unrelenting perfectionism, corporate feuds and difficult personal life, Sorkin creates his own beast, and doesn't give a damn about whether it's accurate or not. ("This was clearly an impressionistic thing," the writer has said. "I hope the movie announces itself as being a painting instead of a photograph.")

It's easy to be tempted into an ethical debate here, but when the results are so compelling (such as The Social Network), it's justifiable to accept the product as simply art with a complicated past, and not some sort of true-to-life docu-narrative. After all, it's not as if Steve Jobs, the film, attempts to distill every single aspect of Steve Jobs, the man. Instead of the predictable biopic structure so drilled into audience expectations, the drama is carved up into three acts, each set at different product launches over Jobs's career (1984's Macintosh, 1988's NeXT and 1998's iMac).

While Jobs prepares for each crucial innovation, he is confronted backstage by the friends, lovers and colleagues who both complete and vex him. (This being a Sorkin film, everyone is also equipped with an astounding sense of wit and ability to talk really, really fast while making analogies that don't always quite make sense.) The result is a tense window into a man's evolving sense of self, and a fast-forwarded examination of how a few decisions can painfully ricochet over a lifetime. It's also, though, a conceit that wears a bit thin by the film's end, when even Jobs wonders aloud, "It's as if five minutes before every launch everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think."

Also denting matters is Danny Boyle's flashy and occasionally off-kilter direction. While Sorkin had hoped to reteam with Social Network helmer David Fincher, after a series of mini-controversies, the Slumdog Millionaire filmmaker was brought in instead. For the most part, Boyle handles Sorkin's standard walk-and-talk sequences with a quiet flair, but every now and then he gives in to his more base instincts, whether it's needlessly projecting dialogue on scenery, clumsily inserting archival footage or shooting from comically extreme angles.

It's as if Boyle didn't think Sorkin's serrated-knife of a script was sharp enough, or Fassbender's performance towering enough, and felt the need to torque the tension. There is, of course, no need. Thanks to Sorkin's humming dialogue and layered, career-best performances from the cast (including Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Sorkin vet Jeff Daniels), drama is in no short supply.

Yet nothing would have mattered if it weren't for Fassbender. While the film's long production cycled through several high-profile leading men (Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale), and Jobs's story has been told on screen before, Fassbender's take is so fierce, rotten, sour and powerful that it will last a lifetime. No upgrades required.

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