Making a film about Steve Jobs is a tricky business. He and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak are hailed as pioneers of the personal computer revolution, and the myth of Jobs as the infallible godfather of modern technology has only grown since he died from pancreatic cancer in 2011 aged 56. The disappointing Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher, was accused of historical inaccuracy back in 2013, and though this superior film from Danny Boyle has suffered similar criticism, it arrives on a surer footing.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) has admitted he hasn’t strictly followed the facts, describing his script as “a painting, not a photograph”. But Wozniak, who served as a consultant, has endorsed the film: “I felt like I was actually watching Steve Jobs.”
Once you accept that Steve Jobs isn’t intended to be a definitive biopic, it succeeds as slick, smart, high-class entertainment. Sorkin structures the film as a three-act character study set behind the scenes at Jobs-led computer launches in 1984 (the Apple Macintosh), 1988 (NeXt) and 1998 (iMac). Each act unfolds in the hours before a stressed out, magnetic Jobs (Michael Fassbender) presents a potentially game-changing computer to the world. The Shame star is terrific, capturing Jobs’ charisma and occasional cruelty without making him unsympathetic.
But Boyle and Sorkin don’t allow his performance to overshadow their film. Fassbender’s Jobs is fascinating because we see how he interacts, often messily, with his closest colleagues. Though he claims loyalty to Wozniak (Seth Rogen), he’s prepared to shame him publicly, and he’s even meaner to former Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). Marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is portrayed as the one co-worker who could really influence Jobs, and when she calls him out for mistreating his daughter Lisa, it provides the film’s most emotionally powerful moment.
Boyle’s film is by no means perfect – it feels strange that Jobs’ wife Laurene doesn’t feature, especially as his relationship with Lisa assumes greater significance in each successive act. But whether you buy into the Steve Jobs myth or not, this is a riveting insight into a man whose inventions changed the world.