‘Steve Jobs’ shows tougher side of icon

Michael Fassbender portrays Steve Jobs and takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.

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Michael Fassbender portrays Steve Jobs and takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.

Stephen Spoth, Contributing Writer

The film opens backstage at the product launch of the Macintosh in 1984, with Steve Jobs shouting abuse at his computer in front of a horrified audience — the computer won’t say “hello.” When asked why he is so adamant about the computer’s audible introduction being presented, Jobs says, “It needs to say hello because it can.”

This scene captures the side of Jobs we rarely see: rude, stubborn, with an almost blind conviction in his technological capabilities. Since his untimely death in 2011, Jobs has become a character of mythological proportions. His uncompromising, argumentative nature have been well documented and repeatedly portrayed in previous films, but “Steve Jobs” is the most glorious culmination.

Directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and written by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), the film places the audience behind the curtain at the launch of three major products: the Macintosh, the NeXT computer and the iMac. It is through this methodical lens that we examine Jobs. The film ignores the conventions of traditional linear biopics for a staged, Shakespearean character study that is more akin to the unrelenting jazz of “Birdman.”

For a movie so focused on Jobs as a man, its success depends on the central performance. Michael Fassbender admitted to looking nothing like the man he portrays, but what Fassbender does goes beyond appearances. He ignores impersonation and champions embodiment, getting to the direct root of who Jobs was and what drove him. We see his cruelty and callousness — Jobs is remarkably unlikeable, but the benign turtlenecked image of the tech genius maintains an undercurrent of familiarity and likability.

The supporting cast is equally strong, with Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen nailing their roles as John Sculley and Steve Wozniak, respectively. Kate Winslet gives the standout performance as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s self-proclaimed “work wife” and closest confidante who tries to pull the humanity out of her boss.

Sorkin’s script is a knockout. The dialogue is sharp, brisk and eloquent. There’s plenty of the brisk Sorkin walk and talk, à la “West Wing.” Sprinkled with vicious one-liners and give-and-takes, this is one of Sorkin’s masterpieces—rarely is a screenplay so dynamic and incisive. Through the corridors and rehearsal rooms of opera houses, we witness devastating failures and monumental betrayals that Jobs endures. While it could be argued that the final ten minutes are not quite as well executed as they could’ve been, it is undoubtedly a theatrical production of the highest caliber.

“Steve Jobs” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, Oct. 9.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 5 print issue. Email Stephen Spoth at [email protected]