Blackberry (20023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Matt Johnson
Run Time
2 hours

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain? 

    Psalm 2:1
These tchies can create a smartphon,e but can they run a company? (c) IFC

Canadian director Matt Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller have gifted us with a comic take on the development of the first smartphone that came to be dubbed the BlackBerry. The meteoritic rise and fall of the company known as RIM, Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, is emphasized by the hand-held camera work of Jared Raab and the literal running of several of the frantic characters at airports and business suites. Based on Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a dark business satire as much since Network.

The film shows that technical genius is not enough to change the world. Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and bandana wearing Doug Fregin (played by director Matt Johnson) lead a team of 14 techies laboring in a room above a Waterloo bagel shop. Their inept pitch for financial backing to Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), at the time working at a major company, falls flat. The best they can claim for their work is “The person who puts a computer inside a phone will change the world.” However, when Balsillie is fired, he approaches them and in a lot of finagling, inserts himself as the CEO. There are a lot of frantic phone calls, plane flights, and meetings (mostly in the US), claims, and ethically dubious negotiations with experts at major corporations such as Microsoft that are too complicated to describe here. One major addition to the executive leadership of RIM is Michael Ironside’s Purdy, almost as much of a bullying boss as Balsillie, “I’ll keep firing until this room is not full of little children playing with their little penises.”

Until the two executive tyrants bring a sense of discipline to the room, the software engineers had regarded it as a playroom. Even during a crisis they had not wanted to give up their weekly Movie Night, until their bosses had laid down the law. This discipline, so necessary in order to transform their playpen into a productive workplace, eventually costs the friendship of the firm’s two founders, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, as it often does, with Fregin falling out of the picture.

There are many comic moments, such as the scene when the anger management defective Balsillie explodes while shouting into a public payphone, “There are three reasons people buy our phones. … They. Fucking. Work!” The film is all business in that we see nothing of any of their personal relationships or home life. This is a biography of accompany, RIM, and not of its personal. And it is almost exclusively toxic male—late in the film there is one female member of the tech team, and she is very conspicuous when the suits are addressing the staff. Also, late on, there is an SEC woman investigating the shady practices of the company.

It is sobering to realize that for a few brief years BlackBerry dominated the smartphone business, garnering 43% of the market—until Steve Job’s famous unveiling of the iPhone, which is shown right before the end of the film and its end credits informing us of RIM’s downfall due to obsolescence.

What could have been a dull documentary-style tale of the rise and all is an exciting, funny, and also somewhat sad tale, but immensely entertaining.

This review, with a set of questions, is in the Jun 2023 VP.

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