Steve Jobs review: Fassbender carries a poignant biopic of Apple's dysfunctional tech messiah

Melissa York
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Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

12A | ★★★★☆

You can’t code, you’re not a designer, you’re not a programmer,” says exasperated Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan). “But every day I read that Steve Jobs is a genius. What do you actually do?”

This is the billion-dollar question asked by Danny Boyle in his follow-up to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. What was it about the Apple impresario that inspired the sort of reverence usually reserved for revolutionary world leaders? Was it an economic inevitability that the most mythologised figure of the last 20 years led a corporation rather than a country?

“I conduct the orchestra,” Jobs replies, throwing his arms wide to gesture towards a flock of music stands, as if he’d just created them and saw that they were good. It’s not only the perfect non-response, it’s also the perfect metaphor for Boyle’s movie, which is positively symphonic in its attempt to defy genre. It bears none of the hallmarks of the biopic, split as it is into an operatic structure that sees five of the most influential people in Jobs’ life confront him with searching questions about his products, mindset and relationships before three of his riskiest product launches­ (the Macintosh, Next’s Black Cube and the iMac).

Read more: Steve Jobs - The Musical: An opera about the Apple founder's life is coming in 2017

The set up borders on farcical but Aaron Sorkin’s clever-clever script prevents it from disappearing up its own USB port. “It’s like everyone decides that five minutes before I go on stage is the perfect time to tell me what they really think,” sighs an exasperated Jobs.

The first act conjures Duran Duran levels of 80s nostalgia, with its grainy footage and enormous plastic glasses. This is a heavily stylised film, from the hair and make-up to Michael Fassbender’s self-satisfied smirk as he delivers zingers like, “God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but everyone still likes him because he made trees.”

Fassbender’s Jobs is hard to root for, especially when he’s throwing out erudite one-liners in casual conversation. But it’s a virtuoso performance that carries Sorkin’s prose with effortless charm (and he manages to do it without looking remotely like Jobs).

In among all the posturing and genius speak, there’s a genuinely affecting examination of Jobs’ dysfunctional relationships, most poignantly with his daughter Lisa, after whom he named his first computer. Like the man himself, Steve Jobs is hard to love but it leaves a lasting impression.

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