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Stars Save 'Jobs' and 'Truth'

Michael Fassbender is spellbinding as Steve Jobs; as Dan Rather, Robert Redford suspends disbelief

(Video) 'Steve Jobs' Movie Trailer: Set backstage at three iconic product launches and ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac, 'Steve Jobs' takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter.

Steve Jobs

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours 2 minutes

Stars: Jeff Daniels, Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet

Director: Danny Boyle


Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours 1 minute

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Dennis Quaid, Robert Redford

Director: James Vanderbilt

En español |You can go one of two ways when you have someone play a famous figure in a movie: You can bury him under a shell of putty and prosthetics to replicate the character's features, or you can shun the makeup and just let him act.

Two of the screen’s best actors, Michael Fassbender and Robert Redford, take the latter approach in a pair of new films. In each case, that performance — Fassbender as Steve Jobs and Redford as Dan Rather — is the best part of the movie.


Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

Kate Winslet and Michael Fassbender in 'Steve Jobs'

In Steve Jobs, Fassbender plays the visionary founder of Apple. The film is based on Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of Jobs, but rather than present a start-to-finish account of Jobs' life, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle focus on the backstage run-ups to three pivotal moments: launching the first Macintosh computer, introducing his new company after being fired by Apple, and presenting the revolutionary all-in-one iMac.

Each event carries its own intrinsic drama — if you're an Apple disciple, that is. With Sorkin at the keyboard, however, you can expect many impassioned words to be uttered and many earnest speeches to be delivered before Steve Jobs shuts down.

As each episode unfolds, there stands Jobs in the wings, waiting to stride onstage to bestow his latest oracular pronouncement. But in every instance, he must first be confronted in turn by the principal people in his life. It's like a tag team of Dickensian ghosts.

And so we meet Jobs' perpetually dewy-eyed ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). Then comes the young daughter they share (played by three appropriately aged young actresses), a girl whose paternity Jobs can never quite acknowledge. Next, Boyle and Sorkin trundle in the computer-whiz partner whose genius Jobs refuses to acknowledge (Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak). Most formidable of all — the Ghost of Crashes Yet to Come — is Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), simultaneously Jobs' greatest champion and the instrument of his ouster from the very company he created.

Most of these visitations are confrontational, prompting plenty of Sorkin's trademark lectures and defensive ripostes. And because everyone has basically the same complaints about Jobs all the way through — that he's an emotionless sociopath — Steve Jobs grows rather repetitive by the end.

Still, you'll never tire of watching Fassbender channel the titan. At the New York Film Festival this month, Fassbender recalled telling Boyle, "But Christian Bale looks a lot more like Steve Jobs than I do!" But if the physical resemblance is missing, Fassbender nails the distant, distracted, oddly lost character whom Isaacson painted in his book. Indeed, in the later scenes Fassbender resembles actor Ed Harris as the manipulative TV producer of The Truman Show (1998), a look I always suspected was inspired by Jobs' persona.

'Truth' be told

If you were to sit Robert Redford and Dan Rather together at your dinner table, it's a cinch you would know precisely which one of these two was more likely to look you grimly in the eye and say, "Courage." Playing Rather in the newsroom drama Truth, Redford makes no real effort to disguise himself, other than to affect a soft Texas twang that's nowhere near as pronounced as the one that followed Rather during his 24 years in the CBS Evening News anchor chair.

Redford pulls off a kind of alchemy, adopting a slight shoulder hunch here, a tight-lipped smile there, until by the end of the film we begin to imagine he actually looks like Rather — to whom he bears precisely no physical resemblance.

"I love the idea of an icon playing an icon," writer-director James Vanderbilt told me. "I wasn't going to ask Robert Redford to wear a prosthetic nose. He plays the essence of Dan Rather."

Thanks to Redford's special brand of genius and Cate Blanchett's strong performance as 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes — on whose memoir the film is based — Truth moves along briskly. The problem lies in the film's central story line: Mapes and Rather reported a 2004 story alleging that then-President George W. Bush was covering up the truth about his 1970s tenure in the Texas Air National Guard. Dubya had gone AWOL, sources contended — and they supposedly had the paper trail to prove it.

Days after the report aired, however, questions arose about the authenticity of those documents. CBS retracted the story, Rather apologized on his newscast and Mapes was fired. A few months later, Rather abruptly retired from the evening news.


Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford star in 'Truth'

To a thrumming soundtrack, Truth follows Mapes' team of intrepid reporters as they track down the story. It then lingers on them as their support within CBS erodes, purportedly at the behest of the White House. Thanks to Vanderbilt's sharp direction, we share the team members' mounting sense of urgency in the film's first half — and, in the windup, their growing despair. So why this nagging sense that the initial scandal is small potatoes at best? Could it be because we know that job loss is the most dire outcome possible for any of these characters?

Stylistically, Truth aspires to be All the President's Men. Thematically, it's closer to the classic high-school satire Election, where Matthew Broderick feverishly schemes to undermine Reese Witherspoon's aspirations for class president.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.