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BlackBerry Review

by Daniel Reynolds
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

The rise-and-fall narrative in storytelling is about as tired as the framing of this lede sentence. This could have meant immediate obsolescence for BlackBerry, by writer-director Matt Johnson, as yet another tedious Canadian film, this time about some footnotes of the tech industry. Instead, Johnson sparks his formulaic tale with a vibrancy that jolts its business news minutia to unexpected life.

Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) and Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) had no reason to meet—except they both needed each other. As BlackBerry tells it, Balsillie was out of a job and wanted to be a CEO; meanwhile, Lazaridis’ company at the time, the now infamous Research In Motion (RIM), was already dead—though he didn’t know it yet. Together, this unlikely pair would produce and market the eponymous (and first) smartphone, a device that would go on to transform society forever. Except, of course, it didn’t really change these two men. In this, as the inevitable fiasco plays out in the film’s second half, it’s noteworthy just how much Johnson and his co-writer Matthew Miller strip out of the story. We learn about the tech and the pivots in recent history that led us from 1996 to here. Yet we don’t get much backstory on Balsillie and Lazaridis to explain why these two would be the way they are. This turns out to be the film’s best feature, rather than a bug, with its performances—particularly that of Howerton’s aggressively bald and doomed fast-talker—closing all the circuits. (If there’s a weakness to this tack, it’s in Johnson’s own performance, which comes off as shallow next to his two leads.)

Balanced against his flair for the silly, Johnson’s BlackBerry grounds itself via an accumulation of true-to-life details that make the story both legible and worth this cinematic treatment. The history of RIM may be well known now, but as the film understands: to the Canadian nerds and strivers who somehow found themselves atop the tech industry, it was just as random they’d be movie stars, too.

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