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  • Writer's pictureMatt Minton

"Blackberry:" Selling Your Soul for a High Price

You may or may not remember the BlackBerry, the world’s very first smartphone. Perhaps you had a BlackBerry yourself. If you’re like me and grew up in the iPhone generation, it’s only a name that your parents have thrown around once or twice in passing. A random reminder of “Oh yeah, remember that phone that I used to have?” Or perhaps it’s a new name to you entirely. But if anybody could make a surprisingly fascinating movie about the rise and fall of a phone that nobody uses anymore, leave it up to independent director Matthew Johnson (The Dirties, Operation Avalanche).

From the start, we get to know a close-knitted group of film and technological nerds led by Mike (Jay Baruchel) and Doug (Matt Johnson). They host movie nights every week and celebrate the adventures of Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark while working to get their company Research in Motion running. But as smart as they are, what they don’t have is a knack for being able to pitch any of their projects or telling when they’ve been lied to straight to their faces. That’s where Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) comes in, seemingly making the company into an overnight success with his ferocious, uncompromising business skills (along with lots of yelling). What ensues in the following years is the unbelievable true story of how the BlackBerry climbed to the top of the phone pack before catastrophic failure.

The film’s fluid cinematography stands out right from the opening scene with a clear mockumentary-like feel. The camera constantly moves around, focusing in on sudden movement at a moment’s notice. While this style takes a bit of getting used to, it becomes quite apparent once the plot sets into motion how successful this choice is at adding a wicked personality to the film, making all of the dramatic and humorous moments all the more effective. It’s quite similar to how Succession pulled off this trick, grabbing the viewer’s attention. Who knew that watching men in business suits talking about market deals could be this entertaining?

The performances in this film are a standout with Baruchel’s character arc being the most interesting — and ultimately tragic: right in-line with the film. He brings to life Mike as an intelligent, initially shy CEO who eventually unleashes his capability for being a ruthless leader with a terrifying urgency. Howerton also gives one of the best performances in the film with his infectious energy and incredible comedic timing. While his role at times risks being a bit one-note, Howerton brings along a deep sadness and desperation to his character that makes him all the more complex to watch.

Jay McCarrol’s impressively hypotonic, electric score also must be noted here, especially with how perfectly it ties into the era of 2000s digital advancements that BlackBerry depicts.

Most of all, what Johnson has accomplished here is bringing to life a story that has so much to say about our digital age and the grueling world of business. There’s a sense, even from the beginning, that it’s all doomed. Failure feels inevitable. And watching Mike, a character that seems to start off with real integrity, lose his sense of self — and his friendship with Doug — is just deeply sad. Yet we can’t look away. That’s the pure magic of Johnson’s directing.

While the film’s structure is nothing special, when the acting is this exceptional and the plot is this engrossing to watch all the way through, it doesn’t really matter that much. Johnson’s flawless storytelling is growing ever more apparent with each unique film he’s made. Here's to hoping that BlackBerry helps launch him into more opportunities and recognition.

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