It’s probably safe to say that there’s a fascinatingly tumultuous story behind every significant technological advancement. Progress always comes with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. BlackBerry takes us behind the scenes of the titular invention, the handheld gizmo that miraculously let people read email on the go, send texts, and access the internet, in addition to making phone calls. A built-in keyboard was nothing short of revolutionary. I don’t know exactly how much of the movie is true, not that it matters. This is a wickedly funny, totally entertaining tale of high risks, big rewards, and catastrophic downfalls.
Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson) are the brains behind electronics company Research in Motion. They have a ragtag operation that often feels more like a frat house than a business. The duo unsuccessfully pitches its latest invention, a cross between a computer and a cell phone, to a larger company. That doesn’t go well, but the guy they pitched to, Jim Ballsillie (Glenn Howerton), sees enough potential that he quits his job and offers to become the CEO of RIM. The union is complicated, as no-nonsense shark Jim is appalled by the disorganization. Often using profane language, he attempts to whip everyone into shape.
BlackBerry finds great humor in the personality clashes between Jim, the intelligent-yet-reticent Mike, and the supremely unserious Doug. Determined to push development forward and secure a mass manufacturing deal, Jim starts claiming the RIM team has a prototype. They do not, so he screams at them to make one the eve of a big meeting. That dynamic runs throughout. Mike and Doug are the know-how guys, Jim is the one who pushes everything forward. It creates a mix that’s unstable, yet effective.
Howerton is hilarious - and award-worthy - as the blustery character. Watching him have a series of meltdowns over his new business partners’ relative lack of discipline never gets old. Johnson (who also co-wrote and directed) earns laughs conveying Doug’s horror at having Jim increasingly encroach upon RIM, and Baruchel hits just the right notes in showing how Mike gradually comes around to Jim’s way of thinking. Michael Ironside has a killer supporting role as the company’s COO, a guy so hot-headed, he makes Jim look like the Dalai Lama.
Once the device becomes a phenomenon, the film gets even more fun, as it explores the myriad ways success can make everyone feel entitled. Constant pressure to keep improving the product takes a toll. So does realizing the competition is breathing down their neck. BlackBerry delves into the decisions and mistakes that ultimately caused the whole thing to go bust. The precision with which it depicts those behind-the-scenes machinations is riveting because they’re all clearly based on personality-driven issues. Mike, Doug, and Jim have what it takes to launch a game-changer, but not what it takes to congeal their triumph into permanency.
The danger in making a movie about business is confusing audience members who don’t understand the fundamentals. BlackBerry makes complicated ideas easy to follow. The movie is a wild ride about a wild ride. Funny, intelligent, and insightful, it speaks to the fickle nature of technology, where the next sensation is perpetually right around the corner, ready to put the last one into the ground.
out of four
BlackBerry is rated R for language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.