Danny Boyle’s bravura portrait of the revered Apple Inc co-founder is neither a traditional biopic nor a gushing hagiography.
Steve Jobs is an audacious character study in three acts that paints its subject as an egomaniac, a visionary and a neglectful father with the same meticulous brushstrokes.
Scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin, who collected an Academy Award for The Social Network, deserves to add another golden statuette to the mantelpiece for his exemplary work here.
He explores violently clashing facets of Jobs’ personality through the prism of three key product launches in 1984, 1988 and 1998 respectively.
Each chapter unfolds at a breathless pace, established by Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, and cinematographer Alwin Kuchler cleverly conjures the mood by shooting on different film stocks: 16mm, 35mm and digital.
Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are mesmerising as the titular maven and his right-hand woman, who take markedly different approaches to people management.
In the first section, Steve (Fassbender) prepares to launch the first Mac, flanked by marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), one of the few people who tolerate his outbursts. When the computer’s voice function glitches, Steve verbally abuses development team leader Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg).
“We blow this and IBM will own the next 50 years like a Batman villain!” seethes Jobs.
Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) watches from the wings, bearing witness to the birth of a monster.
In the second chapter, set four years later, Steve continues to clashes with first girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), who claims he is the father of her daughter.
“Things don’t become so because you say so,” she snaps, as Jobs prepares to launch The Cube, which he knows will be “the biggest single failure in the history of personal computing”.
Bitter defeat turns into sweet personal triumph in the final act, as Steve returns to the Apple fold, ousts Sculley from his perch and prepares to dazzle the world with the iMac.
Rivalries simmer and co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) reminds Jobs that being in charge doesn’t come at the expense of good manners.
“It’s not binary – you can be decent and gifted at the same time,” laments Wozniak.
Steve Jobs is another artistic triumph for Boyle, who stormed the Academy Awards in 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire.
His camera glides along corridors as the protagonist barks orders, demanding nothing less than perfection.
Excellence behind the camera would mean nothing without pyrotechnics on screen, and Fassbender lights the fuse on his own Oscar chances with a scintillating portrayal of Jobs.
“Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra,” he tells his inner circle.
Glimpsed through Boyle’s unflinching, and sometimes unflattering, lens, Jobs played his orchestra until their fingers bled while he barely broke sweat.