The anatomy of an egotistical genius

Film review: Steve JobsDanny Boyle's biopic of the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, delivers on a grand scale, says Matthew Partridge.


Michael Fassbender as tech tycoon Steve Jobs: the most sophisticated take yet

Steve Jobs, a new biopic starring Michael Fassbender as the controversial Apple co-founder and perhaps the world's most famous entrepreneur, was released last week in the US. While it's not out here until next month, it is being screened at the London Film Festival on Sunday and has already received plenty of attention from the critics. Directed by Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting and Olympic opening ceremony fame) and written by Aaron Sorkin (who created The West Wing TV show), it focuses on the launches of three key products Jobs was involved in: the Apple Mac in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998.

It's not the first film to examine the late tech tycoon, as Nigel Andrews notes in the Financial Times the 2013 Ashton Kutcher vehicle Jobs "sank with no survivors". But this version "delivers on the grand scale", with Fassbender portraying Jobs as "a manic demigod spinning on a plinth... defiant, haunted, striving, tormented", while his right-hand woman, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), follows him around delivering "moral lecturettes".

Some have criticised the film as "unkind", notes Andrews, yet Jobs did have a reputation (at least with some) within the industry as being "manipulative, cold-hearted, egotistical, ungenerous with praise, a financial miser". Boyle and Sorkin, "like a team of incision-happy surgeons, have opened up the anatomy of a genius". The reality is that the film isn't nearly as critical as some have suggested, reckons Farhad Majoo in The New York Times.

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In fact, it presents Jobs "in a positivelight... it accepts that his products did change the world for the better, in just the ways he'd promised they would". If anything, the message is "that the... unpleasant behaviour of people in the tech industry may be worth putting up with because of what they sometimes manage to create". That makes Steve Jobs "the most sophisticated take yet in a growing body of... TV shows, novels and other cultural takes on Silicon Valley".

Sorkin's terse prose and immediacy is impressive, but it does assume an "enormous prior investment" in the cult of Apple, says Benjamin Lee in The Guardian. His last film Facebook biopic The Social Network "opened up a similar world and made it engaging" even to those with no Facebook profile. But the technical, low-stakes nature of the various crises here mean that "despite the film constantly informing you of just how incredibly important everything all is, it's disappointingly difficult to truly care".

Steve Jobs (PG) goes on generalUK release on 13 November.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri