Matt Johnson’s film, BlackBerry, inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction, “Men will no longer commute — they will communicate,” traces the emergence of a groundbreaking era of communication, analogous to how The Social Network documented social media’s rise. Featuring Glenn Howerton as the fiery and tempestuous Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Canada’s Research In Motion, the film presents a raw portrayal of a man refusing to be belittled.
BlackBerry, co-created by Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Douglas Fregin (Matt Johnson), is brought to life in a Waterloo, Ontario-based maverick group. Howerton’s character, Balsillie, recognizes their potential, leading to an initial alliance that grows into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Johnson, a filmmaker known for focusing on underestimated outsiders, presents BlackBerry as an unconventional biography packed with humor and distinctive narratives. This Oscar-candidate film employs Johnson’s signature technique of defying reality and manipulating time and space within a mockumentary style, creating a mirror to the process of crafting award contenders.
As Balsillie introduces business acumen into the team, they generate a prototype and a network for a multitude of devices. BlackBerry’s launch, symbolized by an Oprah promotion underscored by The Strokes’ music, encapsulates the cultural shift. Balsillie aggressively recruits talent and pushes sales, leading to a delicate balance between success and disaster.
Despite the unique narrative and humor, BlackBerry adheres to the tried-and-tested formula of tech entrepreneur biopics like The Social Network. However, Johnson and cinematographer Jared Raab give the film a distinct feel akin to The War Room, with Johnson ambitiously aiming to recount the birth and doom of a tech company through a unique comic performance at its core.
The film narrates BlackBerry’s journey from its inception in the ’90s to its collapse following the iPhone’s emergence. It vividly portrays the struggle of the protagonists, especially Lazaridis, who loses his essence amidst the ruthless business world. The film offers a blend of comedy and workplace drama, borrowing elements from The Big Short and The Office, while keeping the narrative from becoming a full-blown tragedy.
Johnson doesn’t focus on the pride and solipsism often highlighted in such biopics, but celebrates the determination that led to the creation of this film. Balsillie’s fierce ambition is showcased, which escalated BlackBerry from a failing modem manufacturer to a biopic-worthy drama. The film serves as a testament to Johnson’s talent for crafting captivating narratives with limited resources, and as a tribute to the tenacity of creators.
BlackBerry concludes with the extinction of its titular product but signifies our lives’ saturation with constant communication. The film hints at the unlimited potential Johnson could achieve with a larger budget, challenging the limitations of the studio.