Culture

'Steve Jobs' is more 'A Christmas Carol' than a history lesson (video review)

Michael Fassbender, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin imagine the life and times of the Apple supremo from a unique -- and almost entirely fictional -- series of angles.

Now Playing: Watch this: 'Steve Jobs' review: Pure Sorkin, but is it pure fiction?
2:18

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a complex, paradoxical and often difficult man. Many books and films have sought to shed light on this most divisive of tech titans, including a new movie from Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin that opens across the US today. Just don't confuse this dramatisation of life in Jobs' inner sanctum for a history lesson.

"Steve Jobs" stars Michael Fassbender in the title role, stepping into the black turtleneck of the man who co-founded one of the biggest companies in the world and became one of the best-known figures in modern technology -- despite never having designed or built anything. Jobs inspired a fierce loyalty, even from people who tell stories of his capricious temper and insensitive behaviour, and he divides opinion even now, four years after his death in 2011.

The new film explores the personal cost of being the technology visionary who helped shape the world we live in today. It's very definitely not a straight biopic, avoiding the life story approach taken by many books and a couple of earlier films. Instead it's divided into three acts, each playing out in real time and set backstage just before an important product launch.

In each act, Jobs meets with the same key figures in his life, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen; the man who ousted Jobs from Apple, John Sculley, played by Jeff Daniels; and the young daughter he originally denied, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, played at three different ages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss.

Despite portraying real people and real events and drawing on Walter Isaacson's in-depth and fact-filled biography, most of what you see on screen is pure fiction. The conversations are totally imaginary, illustrating aspects of Jobs' life and personality in completely dramatised form by having him repeatedly interact with the same people over and over. The filmmakers have described their portrait of Jobs as " a painting, not a photograph" that they believe reveals "a larger truth" than what actually happened in those moments.

Rather than a biography, it's more like a play, in which Jobs is repeatedly visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Leaving aside historical accuracy, it's an interesting and well-acted movie. The three acts are marked with clever use of subtly different music and even different film, from 1980s bleeps and gritty 16mm giving a vintage feel for Jobs' early days, to shimmering electronica and crisp digital cinematography for the triumphant 1998 launch of the iMac. But overall director Danny Boyle uses a light touch, keeping things focused on the actors and writer Aaron Sorkin's dialogue.

The film is pure Sorkin. It's filled with the trademark quickfire banter, throwaway technical information and biting quips -- not to mention all the walking and talking -- familiar from "The West Wing", "The Social Network" and "The Newsroom".

In the lead role, Fassbender doesn't deliver a spot-on impression of Jobs but does give an intense performance. Meanwhile Kate Winslet stands out as Joanna Hoffman, the Apple staffer with the unenviable responsibility of managing Jobs both professionally and personally.

Jobs' personality is the primary focus, as the film doesn't really look at the products he had a hand in creating. At the heart of the film is his tempestuous relationship with his daughter, shining a light on the less sympathetic aspects of his character. As she struggles to connect with her father, Lisa is here shown to represent that personal cost of Jobs' single-minded visionary focus.

Steve Jobs was certainly a hard man to understand, and the new movie attempts to understand him through fiction. If you want the facts, read the book; if you want a witty and dramatic interpretation of the themes and drives of this fascinating figure's life, this movie approaches the Apple supremo from its own unique angle.

"Steve Jobs" opens in the US on 23 October, in the UK on 13 November and in Australia on 14 January.