Many of us had a BlackBerry phone at some point. This author had one for all of high school until the iPhone took over the market. The famed device allowed more forms of communication than any before and helped revolutionize the cell phone world. Yet anyone under thirty may only remember the fall from grace. Filmmaker Matt Johnson brings a high-energy and realistic vision to BlackBerry, a story about the rise and fall of the company. Led by Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton, the exciting tale lands at a surprisingly timely moment for the tech industry.
In 1996, a small company named Research In Motion had its eyes on revolutionizing the world of cell phones. Yet, under CEO Mike Lazaridis’s (Baruchel) leadership, the company struggled to get its house in order. Despite the protests of Doug Fregin (Johnson), Lazaridis brought in a more experienced businessman to run the company with him. Thanks to a partnership with co-CEO Jim Balsillie (Howerton), the company owned 45% of the market share. Yet their brash and seat-of-their-pants approach to running the company eventually caught up with them.
BlackBerry releases into the world mere days after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and months after FTX caused a cryptocrash. The similarities stare us in the face. The screenplay crackles as it brilliantly defines the ensemble through their relationships.
The most surprising performance comes from Howerton, who often brings chaotic energy to the table. Yet in this role, he maintains an intensity and controlled rage. When he opens up, the scenes are quite intense. While Howerton has played dramatic characters before, this is his best turn in years.
Baruchel shows quite a bit of evolution throughout BlackBerry. He’s not playing into his nerd persona. This is a far more internal character than he’s played in some time. He doesn’t redefine his career in the role, but it does show he continues to improve as a dramatic performer.
Johnson brings much-needed comedic relief to the film as a performer. It’s wild how important his character becomes as the events unfold. He commits to the goofy nature of the character, bringing an earnest and unfiltered point of view. Even his goofy movie-quoting schtick feels incredibly authentic. As a performer, he legitimately helps the film elevate.
However, it’s in the design of visuals where Johnson thrives. The camera moves quickly and often feels like we’re in a Bourne sequel. The editing chops together the lingo with style, allowing for great setups and payoffs. As we jump between issues and threats, we get fully immersed in the drama.
With great performances and killer dialogue, Blackberry becomes a perfect vehicle for storytelling. Even though we know how this story ends, Johnson never takes the shortcut. Every moment, all the way to the final seconds, feels earned.
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