Three stars (out of four)
The brilliant inventor of sleekly designed, user friendly gadgets that revolutionized the way the world thinks about computers was a poorly made machine, incapable of love, kindness, selflessness or even basic human decency.
That’s the thesis of “Steve Jobs,” Danny Boyle’s fascinating, if flawed, expedition into the volatile mind of the late genius who co-founded Apple and made it possible for many of us to enter into a passionate, co-dependent relationship with our iPhones.
(Oh, precious iPhone, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.)
Boyle’s film benefits greatly from a whip-smart script by that maestro of intelligent, playful dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, and by the fact that it is 10 times bolder, more ambitious and more absorbing than the 2013 Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher.
At the center of the movie is a mesmerizing, maniacal performance by Michael Fassbender, who seemed an odd choice to portray one of the geekiest innovators of all time.
Fassbender is a marvelous actor, but he oozes sex appeal and a shark-like menace not typically associated with a man famous for his spectacles, white sneakers, mom jeans and black turtleneck. I’ll admit I was extremely skeptical going into “Steve Jobs” that the fiery, Irish star of “Shame” and “Twelve Years a Slave” could pull this off. The crazy thing is how well this unlikely casting choice works.
Fassbender’s intensity, his gift for plumbing the depths of tortured souls and, yes, even the more seductive qualities that have made him quite popular with the ladies combine to create the perfect embodiment of Sorkin’s Jobs, who is — not to mince words — a monumental douchebag.
Yet, he’s a douchebag who radiates a strange, irresistible charisma. We hate this guy. We really do. But we’re also strangely drawn to him.
Fassbender also shares an electric chemistry with co-star Kate Winslet, who plays Jobs’ long-suffering longtime confidante, Apple marketing exec Joanna Hoffman. She’s so good, you’ll forgive her inconsistent Polish accent.
“Steve Jobs” is basically Steve and Joanna’s bizarre love story, albeit a platonic one.
“Why have we never slept together?,” Jobs asks Hoffman in one typically Sorkinesque scene.
“Because we’re not in love,” Hoffman snaps, all business.
If you sat through the dull and plodding 2013 Jobs biopic then you’ll recognize it as no small mercy that Boyle and Sorkin have hit upon a refreshingly innovative structure for their version of Steve’s story.
“Steve Jobs” unfolds in three acts, each of them set in the hours before a big product launch. Ever the edgy stylist, Boyle stages each one in a different cinematic format to reflect the passing of technological eras — the first in low-tech 16 mm film, the second in shiny 35 mm, the finale in coolly detached digital.
The film has the minimalist, intimate, talk-heavy feel of a play. It’s also very similar to Sorkin’s script for “The Social Network,” wielding a veritable hatchet at Jobs’ character in a portrayal that may or may not be fair but is utterly hypnotizing to watch.
Our first impression of Jobs is anything but favorable as he juggles familial and professional responsibilities behind the scenes of the 1984 unveiling of the first Macintosh computer.
While Jobs obsesses over technical difficulties and the fact that he wasn’t chosen as Time magazine’s Man of the Year, Hoffman struggles to keep her mercurial boss focused on the tasks at hand, which include placating ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) even as he denies paternity of her precocious child, Lisa (Makenzie Moss).
Yes, Sorkin’s Jobs is a man cold-hearted enough to proclaim his lack of parental responsibility to a 5-year-old girl’s adorable face, even after she proudly proclaims, “My Daddy named a computer after me.”
Also on Jobs’ social calendar: Software wizard Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), who Jobs humiliates because he fails to program the Mac to say “Hello”; Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who calls Jobs out on his refusal to acknowledge key members of the development team; and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Jobs’ father figure and future rival.
Bridges, Rogen and Stuhlbarg are all excellent, but especially Stuhlbarg, who brings such strength and sensitivity to his soft-spoken character. These three men haunt Jobs throughout the film.
Like Scrooge’s ghosts, they reappear to confront him after his messy split with Apple, at the 1988 launch of his doomed NEXT computer, and finally before his defining moment, the 1998 debut of the iMac.
Lisa is also a recurring character and Jobs’ relationship with the daughter he is so reluctant to acknowledge becomes the major emotional force in a movie that takes many factual liberties but nevertheless has a compelling ring of truth about it.
There’s an air of surrealism to the film as Sorkin and Boyle conjure up a public shouting match between Jobs and Wozniak that never actually occurred and intimate conversations with Sculley and Jobs long after the pair had in reality parted ways.
The movie’s second act is its most thrilling, depicting Jobs’ firing from Apple and his eventual triumphant return to the company as an elaborately staged coup designed to satisfy his thirst for revenge.
“Steve Jobs” can be melodramatic and heavy-handed at times — pinning down Jobs’ fear of rejection to his adoption is a bit simplistic, for instance — and it lets the character off the hook too easily in the end with a reconciliation that is entirely too sentimental for a movie this glacial.
The film’s best qualities are some of Jobs’ best qualities, too. It’s charged with friction, energy and daring vision.