Michael Fassbender has become a front-runner for next year’s best actor Oscar after an early cut of his new Steve Jobs biopic was screened in the US.
“He completely owns the screen,” said Variety, despite his character being “very unlikeable throughout” the film.
“You get the strong sense from Fassbender of a mind that is always several steps beyond everyone else’s,” agreed The Hollywood Reporter.
Steve Jobs was shown as a “work in progress” at the Telluride Festival.
British director Danny Boyle is expected to premiere the completed version at the New York Film Festival on 3 October. The film will also close the London Film Festival on 18 October.
Co-starring Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels, it is the most high-profile of half-a-dozen films and documentaries about the Apple founder since his death in 2011.
The film was written by Aaron Sorkin, who previously dramatised the life of Mark Zuckerberg – another tech billionaire with personality issues – in the Oscar-winning The Social Network.
It spans a period of 14 years between 1984 and 1998, using the story of three seminal product launches – the Apple Macintosh, the NeXT “Cube” and the iMac – to tell the story of the volatile character who founded, and then was forced out of, Apple before returning to rescue the company from bankruptcy.
Boyle, whose CV includes Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, has called Jobs “the kind of brilliant, flawed character that Shakespeare would have relished writing about”.
“This is not a story that sugar coats his past,” noted Sasha Stone in The Wrap’s review. “Jobs suffered no fools. He is, in many ways, a monster who feeds on ego.”
“Fassbender spits out Sorkin’s dialogue like an ice cube maker — each withering insult sticking its landing.”
“Sorkin has a gift for writing the elevated gab of brainiacs,” added Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter, and “Boyle’s fast-heartbeat pacing and quasi-verite style provides the new film with a constant dramatic hum and you-are-there immediacy.”
“But hardly any of this would matter without a dynamic actor at the centre of things nailing the part of Jobs, and while Fassbender doesn’t closely physically resemble the man, he fully delivers the essentials.
“Along with intellectual brilliance and force of personality, the actor also taps into the man’s frequent unreachability, power to inspire, unswerving faith in his own instincts, attention to the smallest detail, utter lack of sentimentality and the certitude that can come from occupying a different, loftier realm.”
Variety’s Kristopher Tapley put it more succinctly: “The 12 Years a Slave star crushes the role… and then some.”
The debut of Steve Jobs in Telluride coincided with that of two other Oscar contenders at the Venice Film Festival.
Johnny Depp has some of the best reviews of his career for his portrayal of Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star “oozes a cadaverous anti-charisma” said Robbie Collin in the Telegraph, although “you long for him to roll his sleeves up and grasp the character’s shape and soul himself, ideally without the aid of those distracting prosthetics.”
“Depp takes control of the proceedings from the outset and never yields it,” said Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter.
“[His] instinct for observing, underlaying and keeping things in, then letting it all out when required, pays big dividends here.”
Also in the running for Oscar glory is The Danish Girl, which stars Eddie Redmayne as celebrated Danish painter Lili Elbe, who became one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery.
However, early reviews from Venice have been lukewarm, with the Guardiancalling it “handsome but over-tasteful”.
Redmayne, who won last year’s best actor Oscar, “is undeniably affecting” said Jonathan Romney. “but his coy grins, so effective in The Theory of Everything, are worked relentlessly here.”
“It’s a film of few surprises,” confirmed Variety magazine – but one of them is the “emotionally compelling” story of Elbe’s wife, Gerda Wegender, played by Alicia Vikander.
“Toggling sensuality and sensitivity, with a latent streak of anger throughout, Vikander plays her half beautifully,” wrote Guy Lodge.
“It’s the stuff that best actress campaigns are built upon.”