May 12th, 2023
STARRING: JAY BARUCHEL, GLENN HOWERTON, MATT JOHNSON, CARY ELWES, MICHAEL IRONSIDE
DIRECTED BY: MATT JOHNSON
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Did you have a BlackBerry phone? I never had one. I was a Razr phone guy and then it was the iPhone all the way from there. For some, they might not even know what the BlackBerry is, but at one point it was the premiere, most used mobile device. But who knew the major story behind its downfall? I didn’t, but director Matt Johnson has made it abundantly clear, in a fascinating, fantastic telling of the company’s meteoric rise and colossal fall in BlackBerry. It’s wild to think that at one point the world could have had a BlackBerry in the palms of everyone’s hands and now you would be lucky to even find one that exists.
The story begins with a group of tech engineers in Ontario, Canada working for their company RIM (Research In Motion). The head CEO is Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his partner Doug Fregin (Johnson also acting here). They’ve sold some of their tech to JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories- aka NASA) but they still haven’t received payment for what they provided and they still work out of a strip mall office that looks like a frat house. A pitch to hedge fund CEO Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) is quickly rejected, but when the Canadian philanthropist is fired from his job, he realizes he can swoop in and take over RIM. He’s a shark that has the guts to take a risk on the company. Although the signs are there that he’s not ethical in his approach, he turns RIM into BlackBerry, and they quickly become the phone used by everyone. That is until they get cocky and Balsillie reveals his true greedy intentions.
From a narrative standpoint, the movies that you can compare BlackBerry to are in the stock world, from Boiler Room to The Big Short, or Wall Street. But it is also a combination of that macho nerd world, bro-culture, mixed into the invention side of The Social Network or most recently Air. The screenplay is pure 2000s culture, written by Johnson and Matthew Miller, and has a sharp-tongued approach to business and pleasure. The engineers in the bullpen love their movie nights and are crammed with coming up with new features for the phone. Balsillie and Lazaridis reap the financial benefits while trying to push the limits of how many phones they can sell. And because of this approach, we know that this won’t end well, but the fun is seeing exactly how it all comes crumbling down.
Part of the reason why BlackBerry is so good is that the direction by Johnson is crisp, with an almost documentary-like style of cinematography, creating a sense that we are in the rooms. It also has arguably one of the best performances for 2023 from Howerton. The Always Sunny in Philadelphia star takes on the role with great strength. Unafraid to be unflinching in his rude and venomous interactions with others. It’s balanced nicely with the fearful and reluctant stance from Baruchel, who hasn’t had many roles like this and should take more of them in the future. Together they make BlackBerry work every single minute.
My only issue, as you might be wondering why all the praise, and only 3 ½ stars; It’s because BlackBerry has Howerton with a bald head cap and Baruchel in gray a hair wig that is incredibly distracting. It’s a factor you get over in the first twenty minutes but it’s also why scenes look closer to satire or a Saturday Night Live sketch. Outside of that, BlackBerry is one of the biggest surprises of 2023. A razor-sharp cautionary tale about the phone that was ahead of Apple in the mobile device game. And then Steve Jobs released the iPhone and the rest is history. You’re probably reading this review on an iPhone right now. You’re most certainly not using a BlackBerry.
BLACKBERRY IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS THIS FRIDAY MAY 12TH, 2023.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady