It takes a bold approach to tackle a subject as audacious as Steve Jobs. The task requires filmmakers who can think different, as the old Apple slogan goes.Enter director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose new Steve Jobs doesn't even try to tell a cradle-to-grave story. All the better, as long as you're ready for what's in store.
Steve Jobs is both highly theatrical and sweepingly visual, a tempestuous human storm in three clean acts. Because this is Jobs, the Apple visionary who tried to innovate at every turn, each of those acts revolves around a product launch. Because this is Sorkin, each act is bursting with verbiage. And because this is Boyle, the action rarely gets static, even when that action is primarily verbal.
The Jobs of Steve Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, is an alpha ego who feeds on those less tenacious and intelligent than he -- meaning just about everyone. He strides with purpose through hallways and backstage spaces, trying to outrun and deflect loyalists, hard-earned enemies and hangers-on. At times, Fassbender acts with the implacable efficiency of David, the streamlined and nefarious android he played in Prometheus. But there's a human being in there, and the movie gradually brings his humanity into focus.
It's not always pretty, which is one reason it's so much fun. This Jobs is a walking resentment, a cataloger of slights real and perceived. He's also brilliant, more so than the cohorts and subservients he views as obstacles to perfection. These orbiters include Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who was there at the start; John Sculley (a magnificent Jeff Daniels), Jobs' father figure, CEO and eventual foil; and his own daughter, whom he'd rather not acknowledge as his own daughter.
The only one with the gumption and masochism to stay at his side is marketing wiz Joanna Hoffman, played by Kate Winslet with great conviction, impressive stamina and a wavering Eastern European accent.
A tech visionary changes the world and leaves a trail of damaged egos and feelings on the way to the top. If that sounds like The Social Network,it's no coincidence. That movie won Sorkin an Oscar for adapted screenplay. Sorkin's hyperarticulate quippiness is a perfect match for characters convinced they're the smartest ones in the room.
Try these Steve Jobs zingers on for size: "God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but we like him anyway because he made trees." "The very nature of people is something to overcome." And, near the end, as he tries to explain himself to his teen daughter (Perla Haney-Jardine, exceptional in her brief screen time): "I'm poorly made."
In Steve Jobs, words don't describe action; they are the action. Characters wield them like weapons. But Boyle's contribution here is critical. He takes a self-consciously stagy structure and opens it up into a kinetic movie experience. He makes impeccable visual choices, right down to the final shot, which suggests an unknowable enigma.
As the movie builds up steam, it develops a sneakily powerful story with a lean dramatic arc. This is, after all, drama. It's not nonfiction; you can find more than one real-life account of Jobs out there, including Walter Isaacson's book on which the screenplay is based.
Steve Jobs is after something more elusive than objective truth, and bite by bite, line by line, it gets there.
STEVE JOBS (A-)
Directed by Danny Boyle. R (language). 122 mins. At the AMC NorthPark and Cinemark West Plano; expands to wide release on Oct. 23.