Blackberry (2023)

Technology has the capability to change the world, change the way we live our lives and for the most part make life easier. And when some generational device comes along, every single person gravitates toward its pull-on society making that the center of attention. From the late 90’s and early 2000’s, that generational device that everyone had was a Blackberry phone. I can admit, I did not have a Blackberry during the height of its popularity and was subjected to desiring to fit in with the crowd instead of appreciating what I had which was the AT&T version, the coveted BlackJack (believe me, I know how unpopular it is to not have the cool device in grade school).

To revolutionize the way people communicate with one another all it took is one idea – one generational one in a lifetime idea that takes all these devices and merges them into one powerful computer that can fit in the palm of your hand. The person who had this idea was Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) who started the company Research in Motion with his longtime friend Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson). When Blackberry opens, the two are arriving at a meeting to pitch the “Pocket Link” to Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton).

And the rest they say, is history.

At its core Blackberry is a biopic but its less about the person who had the million-dollar idea and more about the device. The first phone that has a keyboard with the signature click that you hear when typing messages, emails and whatever else with your thumbs. Talk about revolutionary. No longer was anyone confined to a monitor to access the internet or to work from an office. The Blackberry phone changed the game – it reinvented the wheel and most importantly opened the door for the technology to be pushed even further.

Point being, about 3 quarters of the way through the 121-minute runtime, the timeline jumps ahead to 2007 when former Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced to the world the first ever iPhone. Back at the Blackberry offices in Waterloo, Ontario Canada, the air was vacuumed out of the building. Co-writer and director Matt Johnson shocks his cast of characters into stunned silence. You could hear a pin drop – that’s exactly the level of excellent atmosphere building Blackberry has. How is Research in Motion going to compete with a keyboard less phone that can do everything the Blackberry can do? Mike Lazaridis scrambles, cuts corners and pitches Verizon on a product that doesn’t come close to the quality of the Blackberry name.

Performing 3 separate roles, Matt Johnson has total control of his film. Co-written with Matthew Miller, Johnson drops us right into the action of corporate politics and overly ambitious power-hungry businessman and never lets up on the gas. When we meet Jim, that’s exactly what we get, the self-proclaimed alpha that promises the world and only delivers on a fraction and Glenn Howerton fits the role like a glove. He plays unhinged and untethered rage effortlessly but still adds dimension to his real-life counterpart.

Early on when Jim pitches himself as CEO of Research in Motion, handling the pirates of another company when a modem deal goes south, Doug calls him a shark, the exact opposite of what this company needs. Mike simply asks “and what do pirates fear most? Sharks.”  And a shark is exactly what they get. The morale changes and so does the culture at Research in Motion. Innovation rarely happens when majority of the engineering team participates in movie nights, games and shenanigans during work hours.

That’s where we first meet Mike and Doug – it’s clear Mike has the motivation to innovate but he doesn’t have the leadership quality and for the beginning of their professional relationship, Mike and Jim complement each other’s skills. Jim goes out, makes the deals, mortgages his house and poaches other engineers from top tech companies while Mike creates the Blackberry and its subsequent replacements like the Bold.

Because Blackberry is a biopic to a degree, it does feature several familiar topes that all biopics share. That said, the genre has itself been reinvented with additions like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and Tetris. Blackberry starts fast with the humble beginnings of the company, the meteoric rise in popularity, the plateau and ends with the eventual fall into obscurity. In the film’s final moments, text is laid out that says as of today Blackberry has 0% market share compared to 45% when they were at the height of their popularity.

Oh how the mighty have fallen and the culprit can be attributed to greed. As the film progresses and Research in Motion gets the wheels turning, there is no question, the culture had to change, limits had to be enacted and structure needed to be imposed. It was only a matter of time before the next generational idea came along and left Blackberry in the dust, desperate to hold on to what little they had left.

Within the runtime, Matt Johnson creates the tension while simultaneously capturing our attention and never once letting go of it. We all can guess what happened to Blackberry, but the rollercoaster ride of high stakes tech innovation mixed with corporate greed creates a fascinating study of how we consume these products and how they affect or control our lives and the zeitgeist of pop culture. Matt Johnson delivers on a fast pace narrative with a polished and refined look behind it. The pairing the soft-spoken Jay Baruchel and the eccentric Glenn Howerton (along with the ensemble cast in support) propel Blackberry back into the spotlight with a buzz of a live fast, die young mentality.

Screenplay By: Matthew Miller & Matt Johnson

Directed By: Matt Johnson

Music By: Jay McCarrol

Cinematography: Jared Raab

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Michelle Giroux, SungWon Cho, Mark Critch, Saul Rubinek, Cary Elwes

Edited By: Curt Lobb

Release Date: May 12, 2023

Running Time: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Based On: Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry by Jacquie McNish & Sean Silcoff

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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