Pete Hammond: “Who knew a Canadian biopic of an infamous smartphone could be this entertaining, even poignant and moving? BlackBerry is all that and more.
“In the hands of co-writer, director and co-star Matt Johnson, this long and winding tale of the rise and fall of the BlackBerry, the revolutionary device that first combined a computer with a phone all in one, is at once wonderfully funny, suspenseful and ultimately tragic. Here is a business story that has it all, and has much in common with other movies that focus on iconic tales of new-age businesses like The Social Network, Moneyball and The Big Short. Those movies had the likes of Aaron Sorkin and Adam McKay behind them, and this one ought to really put its chief architect Johnson on the cinematic map.
“Centering on nerdy and inventive Mike Lazaridis (a terrific and never better Jay Baruchel) and Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton — sensational), Johnson’s film starts in 1996 with the emergence of this unheard of idea of a phone that can also send and receive emails with its keyboard built into a magical device no one in the tech world had achieved before these Canadian dreamers actually found a way to make it work.
“Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller turn the story of [the BlackBerry’s] brisk rise and meteoric fall into a kind of breathless tech fever dream, a relentless but addictive downbeat human comedy about the struggle to stay on top in a fast-moving industry.
Hammond again: “Audiences in the film’s core 30-60 age bracket will likely have David Fincher’s 2010 drama about the rise of Facebook — and perhaps also Danny Boyle’s 2015 Apple drama Steve Jobs — in mind, and BlackBerry doesn’t suffer by comparison.
“The big difference is that BlackBerry filters out the white noise to focus entirely on the workplace. We have no idea if the film’s two central characters, tech genius and RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and the company’s hard-nosed, borderline psychotic business head, Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), are in relationships with anyone. We see Balsillie at home alone for a few brief seconds; the rest of the action takes place in the workshop and boardrooms.
“But first it is Lazaridis and his freewheeling, loopy but tech-smart buddy Douglas Fregin (played endearingly by Johnson himself), along with their unsophisticated tech-y friends, who are out to convince the world they can deliver on the promise of their then unnamed invention. Once they bring a sharp and uber-aggressive businessman, Balsillie, into their company Research In Motion, an idea from nerd-land turns into a reality — especially when Balsillie manages to convince Bell Atlantic, particularly chief skeptic John Woodman (Saul Rubinek), of its value for their servers.
“On its way to market the BlackBerry must overcome all sorts of obstacles and impossible business deals, but by the early aughts it is a superstar, beloved by everyone from U.S. presidents to celebrities to average joes — a life-changing communication device. It is a dream come true until shady business deals, infighting and most damaging Steve Jobs and the iPhone combine to bring it crashing down.
“Johnson tells the whole saga, soup to nuts, in a highly entertaining and fast-moving fashion that keeps you riveted throughout. You really find yourself rooting for these guys, particularly Lazaridis and Fregin and their ragtag team of tech nerds who hold a world-changing device in their hands, until they don’t.