'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character Danny Boyle's new biopic, Steve Jobs, is a look at the man who made Apple mean computers, not fruit. NPR film critic Bob Mondello says it's an invigorating story told in three acts of crisis.
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'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character

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'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character

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'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Apple founder Steve Jobs has been both eulogized and criticized since he died four years ago. He's the subject of books, documentaries, even a TV biopic starring Ashton Kutcher. Now he's the title character in a movie that is getting so much buzz that a new theater here in Washington, D.C., will be playing it on all six of its screens at its grand opening next week. Critic Bob Mondello says the film lives up to the buzz.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: You may feel you've been here before - the story of a man who uses technology to bring millions of people together but who can't seem to figure out how to connect with the people who are actually around him. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin told that story a few years back in his script for the Facebook movie "The Social Network." Now he's got a strikingly different take centered on the guy who put music in your pocket and gave the world a personal computer that said hello, ideas that sounded crazy back when most of what computers did was make spread sheets.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STEVE JOBS")

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) What if the computer was a beautiful object, something you want to look at and have in your home? And what if, instead of it being in the right hands, it was in everyone's hands?

JEFF DANIELS: (As John Sculley) We'd be talking about the most tectonic shift in the status quo since...

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) Ever.

MONDELLO: OK, that may be hyperbolic, but give the script credit. It crackles and pops as it chronicles a guy, played intensely by Michael Fassbender, who somehow earns the loyalty of people who look to him for approval and never, ever get it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STEVE JOBS")

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) Last year, Apple lost $1 billion. I don't even know how that's possible. We were less than 90 days from being insolvent. I had three different accountants try to explain it to me. The whole place has to be streamlined.

SETH ROGEN: (As Steve Wozniak) Start with two of the accountants.

MONDELLO: That's Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak played by an increasingly ticked-off Seth Rogen. And he's hardly the only person Steve Jobs ticks off in the movie. There's the mother of a daughter he refuses to acknowledge, the executives who enable him, the technicians who have to make things actually work - hard feelings every step of the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STEVE JOBS")

MICHAEL STUHLBARG: (As Andy Hertzfeld) It's a system error.

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) Fix it.

STUHLBARG: (As Andy Hertzfeld) Fix it?

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) Yeah.

STUHLBARG: (As Andy Hertzfeld) We're not a pit crew at Daytona. This can't be fixed in seconds.

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) You didn't have seconds. You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time.

STUHLBARG: (As Andy Hertzfeld) Well, someday you'll have to tell us how you did it.

MONDELLO: Sorkin and director Danny Boyle give the story a three-act structure, each act playing out in real time - crisis time in the half-hour just before three of those product launches Jobs was so famously good at - first the original Mac, way back in 1984, then the Cube in '88 after Jobs had been fired from Apple and finally, in '98, when they hired him back, the egg-shaped iMac that set Apple on its industry-dominating way. The film's tension comes partly from the terrific performances and partly from juxtaposing Jobs's public and private personas. He could make cheering audiences believe he was changing the world, but backstage was another story. Again, Rogen's Wozniak.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STEVE JOBS")

ROGEN: (As Steve Wozniak) You can't write code. You're not an engineer. You're not a designer. You can't put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board. The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox PARC. Jef Raskin was the leader of the Mac team before you threw him off his own project. Everything - someone else designed the box. So how come, 10 times in a day, I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?

FASSBENDER: (As Steve Jobs) I play the orchestra.

MONDELLO: If you have a sharp eye, you'll note a difference in visual texture as the film moves through time. The first section was shot in 16 millimeter, the second in less-grainy 35 millimeter, the third in crystalline high-def, sort of echoing the technical advances Jobs is talking so passionately about and talking and talking in Sorkin's hard-charging, super-articulate and somehow still emotionally resonant way. The film feels so electric while you're watching that it's hard to believe, after two hours, that it doesn't even get to the iPod, let alone the iPhone. Maybe they're leaving themselves room for "Steve Jobs 2" - or rather, "Steve Jobs" - what would the Apple folks call it? Yosemite and El Capitan are their operating systems. Maybe "Steve Jobs: Half Dome" - it'll come out a year from now, cost an extra hundred dollars; the ticket will require a new adapter, and we'll all - millions of us - line up happily to buy it. I'm Bob Mondello.

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