Pirates of Silicon Valley [1999]

This dramatization of the tangled history of Apple Computer and Microsoft, based on a book by Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine, hits enough of the right notes to make its failures all the more frustrating. The script follows the entwined paths of Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates with a pointed sense of the cultural divide between the hip, self-absorbed Apple cofounder and the brilliant alpha geek behind Microsoft's eventual software empire, contrasting the Mac's countercultural underpinnings with the PC's more strait-laced origins. But Pirates of Silicon Valley seemingly can't decide whether it wants to be a serious-minded history of these key figures in the personal computer revolution or a trashy wallow in the more ignoble foibles of its principals. As a result, it falls short of exacting history while never achieving the guilty pleasure it might have. If Gates has become synonymous with corporate conquest at its most striking, Pirates' interest lies more with Jobs, given a nervous energy and flashes of adolescent selfishness by Noah Wyle, who benefits from a reasonable physical resemblance to the Apple chief. Eyewear and a comb-over do nearly as well for Anthony Michael Hall, who also grafts some of Bill Gates's better-known mannerisms onto his performance and renders Gates as a smart if socially maladroit entrepreneur who, like Jobs, provides the ambition and business savvy to exploit his partner's computing talents. There are a few fanciful touches (Ballmer and Wozniak become Greek choruses, addressing the viewer as they comment on the principals), but the story plays out in straightforward fashion. It's tantalizing to consider how the Apple/PC melodrama might have fared with an edgier, more openly satirical script. --Sam Sutherland

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