The Pitch: In 1996, a ragtag group of Canadian engineers had a great idea — a handheld box that would not only make phone calls, but also send email… But had no idea how to run an actual company. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you think about it, they stumble upon a shark in a business suit named Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), who didn’t immediately see the potential of their nascent device, but once he did, seized the opportunity to bring it to market.
And so the tragic story of BlackBerry going, says Research in Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Douglas Fregin (Matt Johnson, who also directs) attracted by the success of the game-changing smartphone, Mike tries to develop a business side as co-CEO with Jim, while Doug proves to be too young at heart to fit the extra demands of a successful technology company. Technological issues, a botched takeover attempt, and Jim’s extreme business practices all threatened to bring the company down, but to no avail; however, there is a guy named Steve Jobs in Cupertino who has a big new idea…
For Getting Things Done (TM): It’s hard to top The Social Network, when it comes to stories of technological brilliance and business malfeasance, if you are not David Fincher and/or Aaron Sorkin. but BlackBerry holds up well as a blunt portrait of BlackBerry’s rise as well as its eventual decline, with cinematographer Jared Raab riffing on the documentary-esque filming approach of following to keep the action kinetic.
That’s an incredibly important thing to note, because the action here is mostly dudes talking business deals or delivering data packets. To show what made the BlackBerry device so revolutionary, Johnson and Matthew Miller’s script had to dig deep into the details of what wireless information transmission meant in 1996 and beyond; here in the days of reliable LTE or 5G cellular service anywhere in the world, it’s a little hard to remember the days when networks were constantly overloaded with so many users.
(Anyone who attended SXSW from 2008-2010 may remember watching AT&T subscribers with iPhones wandering outside the Austin Convention Center, hoping for a signal despite the many AT&T supporters surrounding them.)
To Johnson and Miller’s credit, they actually manage to explain the more technical aspects of the story in a way that, even if you don’t understand the details, makes it clear that Mike Lazaridis was ahead of his time in solving the biggest technical barriers holding back digital messaging. This is a huge factor in the movie’s power, because once we believe in Mike’s wisdom, his eventual descent into obsolescence becomes even more tragic; a brilliant man whose greatest weakness is not being able to see the real problem in front of him.