Blackberry (2023) Review
THE story of the world's first smartphone is a tale of intrigue, deception, and at time, incompetence. Director Matt Johnson has taken it upon himself to tell the sadder side of most tech stories and how they end up pushing others apart, resulting in the company's inevitable self-implosion. Blackberry isn't afraid to hold back in this department, all while managing to sprinkle in an abundance of laughs along the way.
Once an aspiring tech genius turned struggling businessman, Mike (Jay Baruchel) and best friend Doug (Matt Johnson) look to sell their prototype smartphone to companies who want nothing to do with "suitless slums". Opportunity arrives when recently fired businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) approaches the clueless techies about their product, at which point the three come together and form Research in Motion otherwise known as Blackberry. The three continue their rise in the smartphone landscape, building a multi-million dollar empire, unbeknownst that a similarly-small group in Silicon Valley is working on a prototype of their own known as the iPhone.
One of the best aspects of Blackberry is its ability to balance dramatic tension and dry, witty humour in a way that doesn't overstep its boundaries. The film never leans too heavily into one avenue as even the most important of scenes will have one or two minor moments of clarity, an aspect that was missing from similar tech uprising stories such as The Social Network or Steve Jobs, both of which are strictly carried by their gripping tension and well-paced revelations. Blackberry also possesses these attributes, but much like the phone this film is based, will never be taken as seriously as its competitors. And that isn't always a bad thing as the heartfelt and disgruntled interactions are what make this movie unique.
This isn't one of those biographies that's all about spectacle -- Blackberry that its time to develop the characters and their earnest relationships. Jay Baruchel does an excellent job in his leading performance, stuck between a rock and a hard place as he wants to realise his dreams with the help of Howerton's Jim, all while feeling conflicted that the company's success may result in the termination of his lifelong friend. One interaction between Baruchel and Johnson towards the end of act two perfectly demonstrates this ever-growing conflict and feels earned by having been grown in the background through wonderful camera work and facials courtesy of Baruchel and Johnson. As good as the latter are, the real star of Blackberry is Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie.
Howerton borrows sociopathic anger from his Always Sunny in Philadelphia persona by delivering a masterclass in duality, struggling to keep his cool amid employees who can't grasp the severity of their situation before unleashing his fury upon them like the crashing of a thousand waves. Award nominations have been rumoured for his absurdly bitter performance, and as someone whose been a long-time fan of his, I would love to see Howerton get his flowers.
Blackberry is definitely one of those biographical movies that gets better as it moves along. The first ten minutes can be a little bit disorientating due to shaky camera work, but at the same time, this unorthodox camera work is wonderful foreshadowing for the character's evolution -- they start off worried and unsteady of what will happen before becoming more comfortable with their situation.
Matt Johnson delivers his greatest work of art to date in this nonconformist biography. Blackberry continually shifts the status quo of what this film should be, implementing self-aware moments of drama and delight without sacrificing any of the impact that should always come with them. In a wonderful surprise, Blackberry ended up being one of the best films of 2023 so far and is a must-see for those interested in the dark days tech workers struggle through to give during tech companies their brightest of days.