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With ‘Steve Jobs,’ Fassbender Shoots to the Top of This Year’s Best Actor Oscar Race

Aaron Sorkin provides the words but Michael Fassbender turns them into music.

TELLURIDE, Colo. — The truth is I half anticipated Michael Fassbender to be a weak link of Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” which world premiered as a “work in progress” here Saturday night. Something about the repressed accent in the trailer and the curious casting call in the first place, maybe. Whatever the case, let’s just say the “Shame” and “12 Years a Slave” star crushes the role of the eponymous tortured genius and then some in a film that takes bold strides within a well-worn genre and is sure to take off throughout the season…if the character doesn’t put viewers off, that is.

Because that can sometimes be a hurdle. Jobs is very unlikable throughout. It’s the borderline thesis of the film: “It takes a**holes to invent the future.” But that’s what’s so compelling about the picture in this conception. It’s not a greatest hits biopic. It’s a character study interested in how Jobs grows within a 14-year span (the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 through the launch of the iMac in 1998), focusing on his innovations at Apple, his eventual release from the company, his relationship with a daughter he wouldn’t claim for years, his triumphant return to the Apple fold and his volatile rapport with co-workers and colleagues.

Some are already calling it “Birdman” by way of Aaron Sorkin, and there’s a lot of that in there. The gifted scribe’s rat-tat-tat delivery on the page must have yielded a script full of white space, because it’s wall-to-wall dialogue. Like another film at the fest dependent on talking-head drama, Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” it falls on the editor (Elliot Graham) to keep things moving, and indeed, the choice of structuring the film with a series of near-vignettes helps this immensely. But Sorkin has done a marvelous job of picking the right moments of this particular span of time and conveying them with smart and casual ease.

But back to Fassbender: he completely owns the screen for the film’s 125-minute running time. Co-stars Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston and John Ortiz, among others, provide lots of color. And Winslet and Rogen in particular fill in crucial interpersonal shading for Jobs the character. But Fassbender is possessed here, and therefore a no-brainer best actor Oscar contender who just shot to the top of that list alongside gentlemen like Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”) and Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”) this year.

So call it a contender. “Steve Jobs” just made perhaps the biggest splash of the 42nd Telluride Film Festival so far. And count on Universal hoping that five-year streak of best picture screenings here in the San Juans extends to six.

More on this film, I’m sure, in due time. Keep a lookout for Justin Chang’s official Variety review soon.

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