Film Review: BlackBerry | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, February 25th, 2024  


Studio: Elevation Pictures
Director: Matt Johnson

May 03, 2023 Web Exclusive
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In the early 2000s, back when being able to play Snake on your Nokia was considered a function rather than something kitsch and cute, there was a huge gap in the mobile phone market. Aside from the nominal access to the World Wide Web offered by WAP, you basically couldn’t get online if you were out and about. The BlackBerry was the device that changed all that. BlackBerry, a new comedy drama directed by and co-starring Matt Johnson, tells the true story of how this device came to be.

The film opens in Waterloo, Ontario in 1996. Research In Motion CEO Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend and Vice President of Operations Carl Yankowski (Johnson) meet with verbally abusive venture capitalist Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) to try and convince him to finance their “phone that can send emails.” The pitch goes disastrously, but after Balsillie gets fired from his job, he convinces Lazaridis and Yankowski to appoint him as RIM’s Co-CEO, overseeing all the business and sales aspects of the company whilst they handle the technology. Throughout the film, Lazaridis’ nervousness and uncertainty contrast starkly with Balsillie’s far more aggressive, confrontational nature.

Whilst this may not sound like a laugh riot, BlackBerry is actually a very funny film. It mines quite a bit of humor from its characters’ love of “geek culture” and the ways in which this conflicts with the demands of business. Yankowski and his merry band of coders make time for in-office screenings of classic Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter movies even when they’re chasing tight deadlines. In this respect, the film is similar to The Social Network, with a key difference being that the innovators being depicted here come across as likable rather than entitled and egotistical. Another similarity to that film is the theme of how business can stifle creativity and jeopardize friendships.

However, unlike (to give a recent example) Air, which is reputedly an egregious glorification of corporate hawks, the story BlackBerry tells is one that should be easy for viewers outside of and opposed to the entrepreneurial class to get on board with. Commerce is portrayed as a means to an end and the enemy of camaraderie and innovation here. Yankowski embodies the latter two qualities, Balsillie and terrifying COO Charles Purdy (Michael Ironside) overzealously concern themselves with business imperatives, and Lazaridis is caught uncomfortably between these conflicting tendencies.

Anyone who knows the story of the BlackBerry knows that it does not end with its creators having bested all their competitors. BlackBerry adheres to a two-act structure, with the film’s first half depicting how RIM disrupted the mobile phone market with the titular device, and the second half showing how this market dominance was disrupted by the arrival of Apple’s iPhone. When this collapse in RIM’s fortunes occurs in the film, Lazaridis’ naïveté and myopia make it easily understandable and Balsillie’s abusive behavior makes it feel almost like just desserts. However short-sighted and questionable some of the conduct portrayed in BlackBerry is, though, this is a dramedy that makes for a solidly entertaining two hours’ viewing.

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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