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Film Review: ‘BlackBerry’ is a Clever and Even Thrilling Look at the Development, Rise, and Fall of a Revolutionary Phone

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For what it’s worth, I was once a devoted BlackBerry user. The phone, for all its pluses and negatives, was exactly what someone like I wanted, in that the keyboard was there. I’ve since moved on to iPhones and am plenty happy, but the BlackBerry holds a special place in my heart, especially during my early and mid 20s. So, the film BlackBerry is starting out from a promising place. Luckily, it’s barely interested in nostalgia, as this is an often riveting look at how a group of brilliant but childish young men momentarily disrupted the cell phone industry. Fast-paced, funny, and well acted, it easily overcomes some uneven aspects to be solidly entertaining adult cinema.

BlackBerry is poor man’s Aaron Sorkin, or a more indie take. Or, think if Air wasn’t quite as ambitious. That takes nothing away from this flick, since it’s not trying to be those things. This is lo-fi, mostly intentionally, and is shot almost with a documentary approach, so maybe think Sorkin-lite, mixed with The Office? If that’s at all interesting to you, you’re likely in for a tech dramedy treat. Your standard issue biopic, this is not.

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This is the story of electronics company Research in Motion, a small Canadian group that, at least for a hot minute, controlled the future of cellular phones. At the start, they’re just a tiny company, led by the quiet genius Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his goofy partner Douglas Fregin (Matt Johnson). Laughed out of most meetings with big firms, it’s only when business shark Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) realizes the potential in their idea of putting email inside of your phone, that the beginnings of RIM’s success take hold.

Initially, it’s chaos, with Balsillie leaving a job he’s just been fired from (not that they know that) to come onboard and run RIM with Mike. Pressuring him to deliver a prototype, they eventually get past the various issues that other cell phone makers have been stumped by, resulting in…the BlackBerry. It’s a hit, making the company huge almost overnight, but like so many other tales, their success is only a set up for their crumbling and failure. A phone that was once the dominate method of mobile communication now barely exists. This is the story of how it happened.

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While Jay Baruchel is the lead, and is quite good, Glenn Howerton steals the show. Baruchel plays Mike as a brilliant introvert, more comfortable tinkering with a gadget than standing up for himself. Howerton, on the other hand, is big, loud, and profane, often raising the stakes. Moreover, several of the funniest bits come up due to his rage. Matt Johnson is solid as comic relief, but he’s very much in the shadows of Baruchel and especially Howerton. Supporting players here include Cary Elwes, Michael Ironside, Saul Rubinek, and many more.

In addition to co-starring, Matt Johnson co-writes, as well as directs the movie. After two very small mockumentaries in The Dirties and Project Avalanche, BlackBerry is a big step up, both in budget and scope. It’s still a small indie film, all things considered, but it’s a major progression for Johnson as a filmmaker. His direction is crisp and loose, while the script he penned with Jacquie McNish and Matthew Miller really sings. Solid lines, a clear communication of the technical jargon, and a constant sense of the stakes is palpable. A bit of slack pacing extends the running time a bit beyond where it needs to be, while the third act is a little shaky (we didn’t need as much of Balsillie trying to buy an NHL franchise, fascinating as that subplot is), but those are small complaints.

BlackBerry comes just shy of being a great flick, but it’s still a very good one. Especially if you like the dialogue of David Mamet or the aforementioned Sorkin, there’s a lot here to like. Even if you don’t know what a BlackBerry is (which will make me feel very old), the film does a strong job of explaining it all to you. Alongside work like The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Blackberry is here to tell another tech tale that consistently compels.

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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