review for Pirates of Silicon Valley on AllMovie

Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999)
by Brian J. Dillard review

Thanks to inspired casting and strong writing, this well-oiled TV biopic managed to transform the unglamorous genesis of the personal-computer industry into solid entertainment precisely at the moment when dot-com mania was sweeping the nation. Perennial '80s geek Anthony Michael Hall gets his best screen role since Six Degrees of Separation in the form of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the ultimate embodiment of the revenge of the nerds. Meanwhile, ER star Noah Wyle gets to step out of Dr. John Carter's skin and into a quietly intense portrayal of Apple guru Steve Jobs. Hall's smarmy intellect and Wyle's tortured-yuppie temper may conform closely to public perception of the men they portray, but neither performance sinks into infotainment schtick. And unlike a lot of true-life TV movies, Pirates of Silicon Valley doesn't telescope its complicated plot into a series of irritatingly unconnected vignettes. Instead, it meticulously traces the key events that shaped the Apple/Microsoft struggle and laid the foundations of today's business (and, increasingly, personal) world. There is a bit of Wired magazine-style hyperbole in the script's awe of the computer world -- a flaw that's especially obvious now, after the Internet stock crash. The overwrought treatment of Jobs' personal life, too, could have used a rewrite. But for the most part, writer/director Martyn Burke treats his subject objectively, with a dose of humor -- exactly what the material needs.