Synopsis – The story of the meteoric rise and catastrophic demise of the world’s first smartphone.
My Take – The Blackberry phone, particularly the model Curve, will always be an important part of my memory, after all it was the first mobile phone that I had bought with my first pay check.
Dubbed the “CrackBerry,” because of the seemingly addictive hold the sleek gizmo had, specifically with those satisfyingly click keyboard buttons, Blackberry was indeed a great revolution of the time that is until it was not. Like many other companies who reached the pinnacle of their industry, only to later flop due to lack of innovation or a stubborn insistence on holding on to the past, the Blackberry is now a technology from a bygone era.
On the face of it, the rise and fall of Research in Motion’s keyboard-equipped smartphone may not seem inherently compelling. But in this biographical comedy-drama, writer-director Matt Johnson (Operation Avalanch) and co-writer Matthew Miller, adapting the nonfiction book ‘Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry’ from Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, present its journey like a genuine tragedy, that is backed by both anxiety-inducing writing and fresh thoughtful comedy, playing out more than just a bleak cautionary tale.
The film is so excitingly told, the performances so watchable, and the dialogue so quotable that it becomes the verbal equivalent of something that is unexpectedly beautiful and weird.
Yes, it is not a story a lot would immediately think they would be interested in, but director Matt Johnson has put together a must watch film that is both entertaining and thrilling throughout.
Beginning in 1996, the story follows Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), a visionary engineer, who along with his pal, Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson), co-founded Research in Motion (RIM), after figuring out how to revolutionize the way people communicated on the go by marrying an email machine with a cell phone. Dubbing the device Pocket Link. Unfortunately though the two genius nerds have no concept of how the outside business worlds functions.
And when RIM finds themselves screwed over by US Robotics, a reluctant Lazaridis agrees to let ruthless executive Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) join the company as Co-CEO. Balsillie’s arrival as a vocal outrage expert and brash businessman changes everything, and he and Mike drive the newly named BlackBerry to levels not previously seen, skyrocketing out of obscurity to become the biggest name in smartphones across the world.
Those familiar with BlackBerry’s story will already know how everything ultimately ends for Mike, Doug, and Jim. The film in many ways, is a classic rise-and-fall drama in the same vein as American epics like The Social Network (2010), and while that David Fincher directorial was more polished, this one is more entertaining.
Mainly as the plot construction of the film is rather ingenious as the story rushes from big moment to big moment, setting up stakes that make sense and immediately having those stakes paid off, for good and for ill, in cycles that reflect the modern pace of the I.T evolution, brought to bear on a 121 minute long film.
It is as much a story about the company’s success and failure as a warning about the dark side of hubris. Director Johnson’s film, to its credit, doesn’t try to hide or surprise viewers with BlackBerry’s inevitable problems. His and Miller’s script, instead, plainly plants the seeds for the company’s third-act turn, and it’s a testament to the deftness of the film‘s storytelling that the downfall of the eponymous business feels like the result of decisions made by its characters rather than shifts in the market that were simply out of their control.
By staying grounded with the story, he makes you care about this corporation. You care about Laziridis and his cadre of geeks, and by making Balsillie’s antics relentlessly entertaining, even when he’s being a complete jerk. You can’t help but be drawn into this world and even knowing how it ends doesn’t make it any less intriguing. But what’s most impressive is that it gives the story of Research in Motion a compelling dramatic shape: the rise of the genius, the defeat of his enemies, for example, Palm’s potential hostile takeover of the company is particularly harrowing, and the inevitable downfall.
The story of Blackberry is the thesis statement on the evils of predatory capitalism. A man who just wants to make a really good communication product is quickly consumed by the constantly craving maw of a capitalist beast that must be fed at every moment.
Those incapable of feeding the beast are consumed by it and the film is just the kind of capitalist cautionary tale that gets right at the heart of the way constantly seeking profits changes people, their motivations, and how it alters them on a fundamental level. It’ll forever change the way you view BlackBerry. And for the tech titans of today, the film is a textbook example of how quickly you can fall from grace.
Performance wise, both Jay Barucshel and Matthew Johnson are wonderful. Baruchel plays it all perfectly, adjusting his speech and body language to subtly reflect the changes. He makes you care about Lairdis so that in spite of his shortcomings, audiences can’t help but feel bad for the way it all turned out. However, Johnson often manages to steal the show with his irreverence and comedy.
Glenn Howerton too is excellent as the corporate tough guy Jim Balsille. The former star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star presents a loud and brash personality that befits a scruples free businessman chasing every dollar and imposing his will upon the geeks and nerds that exist under his weighty boot.
It helps that the three are backed by an excellent supporting cast that includes Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Rich Sommer, SungWon Cho and Martin Donovan. On the whole, ‘BlackBerry’ is a riveting, darkly comedic and a fascinating tale that deserves a watch.
Directed – Matt Johnson
Starring – Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson
Rated – R
Run Time – 121 minutes