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BlackBerry (2023): Film Review

BlackBerry documents an important part of technological history, and the complex relationships and brilliant minds that made it happen.

Based on the bestselling book ‘Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry,’ BlackBerry tells the story of the rise and fall of the company behind the world’s first smartphone. Coming from humble beginnings in Waterloo, Ontario, best friends Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Douglas Fregin (played by director Matt Johnson), come up with the idea of the PocketLink – an email device that would also work as a pager –  in 1996, but are unable to get their idea off the ground. Enter Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), a hot-headed businessman who is willing to give Research in Motion (Lazardis’ and Fregin’s company) his money and expertise to get the ball rolling. After the deal was made, and a few small revisions, the BlackBerry was born.

With its high stakes plot, an interrogation into some of the world’s most powerful minds, and a consistent comical tone throughout, lovers of The Social Network (2010) and The Big Short (2015) will feel at home here. Although, this multi-faceted film is not just for the technology gurus out there, as co-writers Matt Johnson and Matthew Miller worked to integrate technological jargon into a narrative that also had an emotional pull. BlackBerry, henceforth, is not just a film about the creation of the world’s first smartphone, but also works as an exploration of friendship, community, and power.

Offering some respite from all the smartphone talk, BlackBerry also features great film and game references to reflect the passions that were foundational to all the tech experts that worked at Research in Motion. Featured at RIM’s movie nights, you’ll see clips of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark and They Live, along with an impressive array of Doug’s game-related shirts sprinkled throughout the runtime. The soundtrack, featuring classics like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by The Kinks and ‘Love Will Tear us Apart’ by Joy Division, also helps in bringing appeal to a more general audience.

loud and clear reviews Blackberry film festival berlin 2023 movie
2023 Berlin Film Festival: Jay Baruchel, Pranay Noel, Steve Hamelin, Matt Johnson, Ethan Eng, Ben Petrie and Michael Scott in BlackBerry. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

Cinematographer Jared Raab’s use of a hand-held camera gives a sense of freedom to the filming style that allows for constant zooming and panning. This gives a documentary, fly-on-the-wall feel similar to that of HBO’s Succession. Although it may take a while to get used to, the choice to film BlackBerry in this way works well in submerging the viewer into the chaos of these real-life events, replicating the fast-paced nature of working in the technology industry where anything that was made five minutes ago is already outdated.

The performances in BlackBerry are consistent across the board. Jay Baruchel plays the extraordinarily intelligent Mike Lazaridis, who regardless of the company’s successes or failings, only truly cares about making something incredible. Matt Johnson plays Douglas Fregin, Mike’s best friend, and does a great job of bringing both a strong comedic element to the film, and keeping his co-workers grounded (for the most part). Doug is presented as Jim Balsillie’s foil, a man who is motivated by greed and achieving success, whatever the cost. Glenn Howerton depicts Balsillie as an insufferable antihero, who, regardless of the iPhone’s eventual hold over the industry, would have bought the company to its knees.

Although it may not be destined for the same level of success as The Social Network, BlackBerry still offers an engaging look into an important part of technological history, and the complex relationships and brilliant minds behind it all.

Get it on Apple TV

Blackberry premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on February 17-23, 2023. The film is now available to watch on digital and on demand in the US and will be released in UK & Irish cinemas from 6 October, 2023. Watch Blackberry!

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