The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BLACKBERRY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - BLACKBERRY

Blackberry review
The rise and fall of the world's first smartphone.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Matt Johnson

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Saul Rubinek, Cary Elwes

Blackberry poster

At some point over the last couple of decades I became something of a luddite. I listen to my music on CDs, records and cassettes; I prefer blurays and DVDs over streaming; and I find it close to impossible to read anything in depth on a screen rather than a page. Were it possible, I'd handwrite my film reviews instead of having to deal with the internet. Much of this is down to the simple fact that modern tech is rubbish. Sure, there have been huge advances in the past couple of decades, but very few products actually function as they're supposed to. Streams lag, software freezes, content disappears, apps no longer work on your current device etc. Consumers are as much to blame for this as producers, as people are so desperate to have the newest product that they'll gladly fork out for what would have been considered a prototype in a past era. Creators who take pride in their product were nudged out a couple of decades ago by salespeople who couldn't care less about the product, only the profits.

Director Matt Johnson's Blackberry gives us some insight into how this came to be. Working with co-writer Matthew Miller, Johnson tells the story of the rise and fall of the Blackberry phone. It's a classic tale of a creator with integrity being pushed aside by a shark who tastes consumer blood in the water.

Blackberry review

It's 1996 and techie Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) has a great idea for a new product – a computer inside a phone. Unfortunately he has no idea how to sell his idea, nor does his "business partner" Douglas Fregin (Johnson), who doesn't seem to have any of Mike's talent but shares top billing at their unfortunately named company, RIM (Research in Motion). When a pitch meeting with the vampiric Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) goes as badly as all their others, Mike and Douglas resign themselves to more failure. But when Jim is fired from his company he takes another look at Mike's idea and sees dollar signs.

If you've seen The Founder, which tells the story of the roots of McDonalds, you'll be familiar with how this goes down. Like Michael Keaton in that movie, Jim worms his way into RIM (God, that really sounds bad) and becomes co-CEO alongside Mike. As they pitch their product, the pair form a good cop, bad cop duo with Jim storming into conference rooms like a manic force of nature while the socially awkward Mike mumbles his way through presentations. Eventually it pays off as communications network Verizon picks up the device, whose name is derived here from a sloppy eating accident, and Jim and Mike are soon rolling in cash.

Blackberry review

If you're wondering why you haven't seen a Blackberry in anyone's hands in the last 10 years, Johnson's film details just why that's the case. It's very much a rise and fall story, and Johnson does a great job of communicating the adrenalin rush felt by those on the way up. We can see why Mike is swept away by Jim's energy, mesmerised by cash flow to the point where he begins to compromise his ideals. "Perfect is the enemy of good," is one of Jim's mantras, and Mike gradually begins to fall for it, ultimately leading to a compromised product and the company's downfall (along with the small matter of Jim's illegal business practices).

A movie about a phone has no right to be this entertaining, and it's largely down to a tantalising performance by Howerton, an actor best known for his role on long-running sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Howerton plays Jim like a delirious mix of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman and Alec Baldwin's foul-mouthed salesman from Glengarry Glen Ross. Much of the humour comes from Jim's reactions to being surrounded by young men who are far more clever than he is but can't seem to function as adults. Many times Johnson will just cut to Howerton's stone faced reaction in an example of the Kuleshov Effect that could make it onto future film school syllabuses. And just when you think Howerton's Jim is the scariest man in the room, he only goes and hires a Chief of Operations played by arguably the most intimidating actor who ever graced a screen – Michael Ironside!!!

Blackberry review

While Johnson's film zips along at a rapid pace, much like its titular product it does outstay its welcome to a degree as it approaches the two hour mark. The film's final half hour charts the destruction of the titular company and the people involved, but Johnson is unable to inject this portion with the sort of energy Scorsese brought to the similar downfall climax of Goodfellas. That said, it's testament to Johnson's storytelling skills that we're still invested in the lead players at that point, despite them being the sort of people we'd cross the road to avoid in real life. One of the guilty pleasures of cinema is being able to root for assholes, and there are few bigger assholes than Jim Balsillie, or at least this version of him.

 is in UK/ROI cinemas from October 6th.

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