Steve Jobs biopic 5* review: The consequences of genius
Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs biopic is a real treat
At a key moment in Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, the protagonist (Michael Fassbender) has a stand-up row with his oldest friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) just minutes before a major product launch.
Jobs is on-stage when Wozniak yells at him from the back of the auditorium: "Who are you? You're not an engineer. You're not a designer. You can't put a hammer to a nail… What do you do?".
It's a very good question, and one that was put to Jobs many times during his relatively short but blindingly eventful life, and his answer tells you everything you need to know about him. "Musicians play their instruments," he tells Wozniak without a hint of irony, "I play the orchestra."
Since his death four years ago, Jobs' media star has risen rather than fallen: he's been the subject of two other feature films, five documentaries and three biographies.
Danny Boyle's film is based on Walter Issacson's 2011 biography, as well as interviews screenwriter Aaron Sorkin conducted with the late mogul's colleagues and friends. The result is a dense, rich and audaciously constructed movie that seems to reject conventional Hollywood notions of storytelling as well as the very notion that a man's life can be neatly summed up.
The film is framed around three of the famous product launches that would become a Jobs trademark, and when we first meet him it's 1984 and he's looking preppy as he prepares to unveil the Apple Mackintosh personal computer. As Jobs paces nervously around his dressing room, he's coached and coaxed by Apple's marketing manager Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, in brilliant form), one of the few people with the nerve to confront his more dictatorial tendencies.
In the moments before the launch, he's also visited by former girlfriend Chrisann, and a six-year-old girl called Lisa, whom Jobs insists is not his daughter. She is, and he will later accept and even embrace this fact, but now we see him employ chilling coldness in his dealings with mother and daughter, as well as his Apple colleague Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), whom he humiliates publicly over a technical glitch.
Four years on, Jobs has been fired by Apple after a showdown with the board, and is about to launch his new company NeXT's latest computer, a beautiful and formidable-looking black box that will be a total dud as a product, but is also a kind of Trojan horse, containing a superb new operating system that will give him the leverage to get back into Apple and settle some old scores.
And the last segment of the film takes place in 1998 as Job launches what will be the hugely popular and game-changing iMac, and has memorable reckonings both personal and professional.
It would have been so easy to package this biopic as the classic American dream, starting with an adoption and step-parents before moving on to that fabled suburban garage where Jobs and Steve Wozniak dreamt up the future of computing.
But that would have been boring and unsatisfactory, and might have entailed pigeon-holing Jobs into a heroic mould he'd never have fitted. Instead we get this gritty, talky, argumentative sweep through his life and the moments that defined it.
Fassbender brilliantly catches the quicksilver evasiveness of Jobs, who at various points is cornered by friends and colleagues hoping to make him compromise, say sorry or admit he was wrong. Jeff Daniels is very good as John Sculley, the former Apple CEO whom Jobs once embraced as a father figure and later emerges looking for reconciliation, while Rogen's Wozniak pops up several times pleading for his place in the Apple legend.
They're wasting their time of course, because Jobs is both hippy populist and ruthless dictator, a man on a mission who seems to sense his time is running out.
Steve Jobs (15A, 122mins) 5 stars#