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BlackBerry (2023) – Review

May 12, 2023

BlackBerry – Grade – A: – Directed by Matthew Johnson, and starring Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton, BlackBerry is an expertly crafted look into the rise and fall of the first smartphone. 

I always know when I love a film because immediately after it ends I find myself scouring the  internet so I can learn more about the production (I found some cool interviews). BlackBerry is a movie that I greatly admire and it makes me really happy knowing that director Matthew Johnson and his crew created a visually impressive experience on a $5 million budget that was slowly pieced together throughout the production. Based on the book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry” the movie follows Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), Douglas Fregin (Johnson), and executive Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) as they take the BlackBerry phone from a simple prototype in the early 2000s, to owning 43% of the smartphone market share in 2011 – and then only 5.9% of it in 2013. It’s a classic rise-and-fall story that we’ve seen many times before (Social Network, WeCrashed, The Dropout), but it still feels fresh and new which is due to Johnson’s documentary-style approach to filmmaking. 

Credit should also go to Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Michael Ironside, Cary Elwes, SungWon Cho, and Rich Sommer, who portray the various tech innovators, middle managers and competition who all pop up throughout the movie and create memorable characters. Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller didn’t want to “Hollywoodize it and make these guys seem like Elon Musk. They had to be like LAN party nerds who — by happenstance — wind up changing the world and not even realizing they did it.”

I like the idea of accidental world changing because it really does come across that nobody expected the BlackBerry popularity explosion (and implosion). My favorite moment in the movie takes place when Lazaridis and Balsillie have lunch with Carl Yankowski, the CEO of Palm Inc. After not accepting Yankowski’s offer of a merger they are threatened with being bought outright, which forces Balsillie to start adopting dubious means to keep his company from being acquired. It’s fun watching him telling the sales people to step up their game by any means necessary and it’s a joy watching him travel around the country in a private jet in order to recruit the best in the business. The script and Howerton do a fine job of making Jim Balsillie believable as he breaks laws to ensure the company isn’t bought out by larger companies. He is never a caricature, and that’s why the movie is excellent. 

Also, Baruchel excels as Mike Lazaridis, a soft spoken and wildly intelligent engineer who alongside his partner Douglas Fregin figured out a way for smartphones to be able to send emails and instant messages (for free!). What’s nice about Lazaridis is that he isn’t an super ambitious entrepreneur and he’s not a naïve “nerd who lets Balsillie run all over him. The characters feel real, and their motivations don’t seem too dramatically stretched as they scratch and claw to gain market share.

What’s interesting is that despite Johnson having very little knowledge of Silicon Valley and tech companies, he based the story of filmmaking. In an interview with IndieWire, he said “We tried to make it very close metaphorically to what filmmaking is like, how success can change the culture of a production company — we just grafted that onto corporate culture.“ Johnson’s filmmaking approach features a lot of wide shots and a documentary-style that watches characters through windows and listens in on personal interactions at a distance which makes it seem like the viewer is eavesdropping on something important. The cinematography by Jared Raab should be applauded because it makes the various office spaces and conference rooms seem vibrant and alive. This is a tough task because the amount of setups and shots they get out of each location is massive, which means extensive planning and patience had to be observed by the cast and crew. 

Final thoughts – I love this movie. Watch it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2023 9:16 am

    Thanks for an excellent review and reviewing this one. When the trailer popped up the other day I thought it was an ad, then a joke, then realized it was a trailer. But seconds into it I was hooked and wanted to see it. I’m glad to hear it doesn’t disappoint. Thanks again!

    • May 13, 2023 12:36 pm

      You’re welcome! I love the movie so much. I hope it does well.

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