Michael Fassbender adds to his lengthy list of sterling performances in Steve Jobs, playing the eponymous computer entrepreneur. He brilliantly depicts the vitality, stubbornness and genius of this larger than life figure, though I have no idea how true to life his portrayal or the film is. Some have said it whitewashes Jobs, whilst others claim it is too harsh. I for one do not particularly care, since regardless of the truth, Steve Jobs is riveting.
As per current biopic trends, this eschews the cradle-to-the-grave approach and instead focuses on backstage drama around the launch of three different Apple products in 1984, 1988 and 1998. Besides Fassbender strong support is provided by Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Bridges, as Jobs’ long suffering marketing manager Joanna Hoffman, programmer Steve Wozniak and original Apple CEO John Sculley respectively. In addition, Jobs’ daughter Lisa is portrayed by three different, equally brilliant actresses Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine. Danny Boyle directs with his usual visual panache and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin provides a fine theatrical template, set almost entirely within the claustrophobic backstage environment, and packed with his requisite sizzling dialogue.
All of which begs the question, how did this terrific film fail at the US box office? Steve Jobs shares DNA with the much more successful The Social Network (also written by Sorkin), and with this much talent attached, it is genuinely baffling as to why the film did not find an audience. Although films about unlikeable protagonists can be a hard sell, this manages to give the hoary old genius-who-is-rubbish-with-people tale a fresh spin. It explores key relationships between Jobs and Hoffman, the woman who acts as his conscience, Wozniak, who remains loyal despite appalling treatment and Sculley, who comes off as either duplicitous or misunderstood depending on where audience sympathies fall.
In the end though, the relationship with Jobs’ daughter Lisa is what really gives the film emotional depth – a shocking catalogue of sins of omission beginning with refusal to accept parentage to regret and recriminations later in her life. As Wozniak aptly laments “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time”.
With such food for thought amid the dramatic fireworks (I should throw in the regulation warning for strong language here), I’m left scratching my head as to what’s not to like. Do yourself a favour and don’t believe the box office figures. See Steve Jobs. It’s a brilliant film.