Direction: Matt Johnson
Screenplay: Matt Johnson, Matthew Miller
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson
Length: 121 minutes
Based on the book ‘Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and
Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry’ by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, the film charts roughly
the same biographical course. Beneficial to this adaptation is the fact that the principal
storyline of the once preeminent smartphone, which dominated communications before
disappearing without a trace, starts and finishes in around a decade, from 1996 to 2008.
Since the plot is already a matter of public record, this critic will refrain from repeating it. All
I will say though, is that US Robotics, PalmPilot and the Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC) are all there. As is Apple, of course.
For those of you, like this reviewer, who didn’t own a BlackBerry for whatever reason, the
film operates as part historical introduction, part nostalgic excursion to the late 1990s/early
2000s technosphere. An interweaving of grainy cinematography with even nosier archive
footage replicates the analogue era well, as does the infusion of a diegetic rock music
aesthetic. It reinforces antique as the BlackBerry, of course, didn’t survive the era of data,
unlike Facebook, whose origin story as depicted in ‘The Social Network’ was bestowed the
peerless camera operations of the David Fincher sleek. By forging its own way though,
‘BlackBerry’ matches its subject matter just as excellently.
Even a trident of minds is present once again, jostling for the governing position of captain;
the inventor, the marketer and the co-founder – in that order of importance. Mike Lazaridis
(Jay Baruchel) is the inventor whose once incorruptible moral compass becomes saturated
by success. Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) is the “bald, scary looking guy” marketer whose
shark attack style of communication, that yields, admittedly, wondrously productive results,
comes back to bite him. Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson) is the co-founder with no acumen for
leadership but whose critical emotional support network of loyalty is sidelined in the pursuit
of relentless success. Each orbits the other, but despite every sacrifice, a disintegration of
values in the inventor, the mainframe, takes Icarus out of the sky.
With reference to ‘The Social Network’, see Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Justin
Timberlake (Sean Parker) and Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), as the first, second and
third pair of eyes outlined above in this fascinating power struggle for the sight of the first. A
focus on this triangular dynamic provides the same critical strength for ‘BlackBerry’ where even the smartest of phones, it appears, can succumb to an overload of data. Be careful what you wish for.
Practical make-up and hairstyling effects, for the purposes of ageing the actors, appears
more noticeable towards the close of the story mirroring the toll the passage of time takes
on both characters and machine. A relatively short window (at least in biopic terms) with
which to peer through to view the entire lifespan of a narrative arc allows ‘BlackBerry’ to
maintain a tight grip on its product by way of both writing and editing. Produced for only
$5million, ‘BlackBerry’ exists on the edge of the abyss, as do an eclectic mix of characters.
However hard they work to earn a seat at the top table, be it in Wall Street or Silicon Valley,
they’re outsiders and always will be; they’re only ever pitching for survival and will never
truly live there. Despite each of the trinity appearing to possess a direction of travel in
divergence with the other, one wonders whether, without the creative alchemy that each
brings to their collective table, a gamechanger like this one would ever have been made.
Not content with acting (a beautifully fragile performance), Johnson also directs and co-
writes, both of which are handled brilliantly: a triple threat.
Curiously, an extended version of the theatrical release will make its television debut as a
three-part limited series on CBC Television (owned by the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation) roughly four weeks from now on 9 November 2023. Could this be a way of
delivering a director’s cut to a mass audience, now that DVDs, the original format for
disseminating such additional material, have become as obsolete in the age of streaming as
BlackBerry has in the age of touchscreen smartphones? Whatever ‘Justice League’ can do,
surely ‘BlackBerry’ can do too.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why there exists such a short timeframe between the release of
this film and its limited series then don’t: ‘BlackBerry’ opened for business in Canada five
months ago. A manufactured delay in the circuit board of film distribution to any market
that just happens to be outside of North America, the central nervous system of the
technosphere. If only one smartphone could change that.
“Try typing with your thumbs.”
‘BlackBerry’ is in cinemas now: