Saturday, May 13, 2023

BlackBerry: Movie Review

2023 is apparently the year of the corporate biopic, a genre that is proving to be more successful than it sounds like it should be. Blackberry, the historical drama-comedy about the rise and fall of the Waterloo tech company Research in Motion, is highly entertaining with a winning structure. Mike and Doug are two Canadian tech nerds with an idea for the world’s first smartphone and zero sense of how anything is accomplished or how money is made.   2023

Directed by: Matt Johnson

Screenplay by: Matt Johnson, Jacquie McNish, Matthew Miller

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton

Blackberry (the film), while being true to the company’s roots, uses a key dichotomy – how do you build a company with a CEO who’s a tech genius but does not know how to run a business? By pairing him with a CEO who only knows business and nothing about engineering. Blackberry (the company) was routinely criticized for having this dual CEO structure. Two people who arguably don’t even know what the other person is talking about can’t be a successful business model. That’s still up for debate.

The film however latches onto Jay Baruchel as nerdy computer engineer co-CEO Mike Lazaridis and Glenn Howerton as the arrogant and domineering co-CEO Jim Balsillie and leverages it into comedy and captivating entertainment. All Canadians, or at least those old enough for the rise of Blackberry, will know Jim Balsillie the high-profile billionaire who decided he needed to own a hockey team and made multiple ill-fated attempts. Glenn Howerton is pitch-perfect as Balsillie. A potential career-redefining performance – a protagonist who is way too villainous to be a hero, but a villainy born out of status-hunting, arrogance and relentless determination rather than evil. In the decade since RIM’s prominence, I had forgotten a lot of Balsillie’s endeavours, but Howerton and the film highlight all of the fundamental fights.

This is an excellently paced and well-structured film. It rarely lags and uses time jumps both as comedic nostalgia but primarily to keep the film moving. It has been criticized for not being accurate, and while I don’t know enough about RIM’s history to know if it is or isn’t, one can safely assume that it’s not. Real history is rarely cinematic in a perfect two-hour runtime. Timelines are changed or condensed and the real pitch meetings were probably a lot more boring.

Canadians of a certain age will enjoy this: for Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie screaming about Waterloo “where the vampires hang out!”; for Jay Baruchel in a comically over-sized suit; and for Doug – quietly becoming one of the richest people in the world. Hopefully the United States and the rest of the world get to see it too. There are entertaining characters recreating the history of the smartphone and a company that will have business students studying its successes and failures for decades to come.

One of the Best of 2023