*** (out of five)
I don’t know this for a fact, but Michael Fassbender may say more dialogue in Steve Jobs than any actor in any feature film in history. He never stops talking and he’s in every scene. Compare this to his Oscar competitor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who spends The Revenant grunting, spitting, huffing, crying, moaning and groaning, but rarely says a word. Comparing them as performances is a little like comparing the chicken and the ibis – they’re both birds, but…
Fassbender plays (very well) a Steve Jobs of the mind – specifically of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s mind. Jobs walks and talks, continually joined and left by a succession of people important to him, as he prepares for three product launches (I won’t mention which ones as they’re kind of fun surprises if you’re a big nerd). If you’re familiar with The West Wing the style will be very apparent. Almost all of these interactions are dialogues, so you’ve got Fassbender with Kate Winslet as his longstanding and fiercely loyal marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, Fassbender with Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Sculley, Fassbender with Katherine Waterston as an ex-girlfriend and three actresses playing his daughter Lisa over the years, and, most excitingly, Fassbender and Seth Rogan playing (very well) Steve Wozniak.
If you don’t know who Wozniak is there’s probably no enjoyment for you in this film, and, indeed, the biggest strike against it is that it doesn’t have any compelling reason to exist. Jobs was adequately covered on the big screen in Jobs (2013) and this film doesn’t add anything new to the conversation other than to make Jobs look like a big dick. Sorkin’s writing is often self-conscious and Danny Boyle’s direction often lapses into melodrama and over-simplification; at times both artists, great when at their best, seem to be working off bullet points. The project nearly died many times over when directors (such as David Fincher) and actors (such as Leonardo DiCaprio) walked away (see The Sony hacks for all the details) and it feels like it was only actually kept alive – and made – to assuage Sorkin’s ego. It has very little mass appeal and will probably be remembered as a curiosity and little more. Jobsians will be disgusted at what is, pretty much, a straightforward character assassination and non-techheads could easily become bored.
But Fassbender is electrifying and pulls you through if you’re interested at all in technology, the Apple computer story myth, or the history of the personal computer. He makes this role look easy – and, trust me, it was the hardest gig of its year. Sorry, Leo, that’s the truth.