Friday Film Review | ‘BlackBerry’
The summer movie season is underway, with the usual sequels, remakes, and special-effects spectaculars. But a little-noticed gem, “BlackBerry” deserves your attention.
About 20 years ago, or so, the trendy and the powerful depended on a little gizmo in their hands called a “BlackBerry.”
Today, that reference sounds quaint—like hearing somebody’s at home watching movies on laser disc.
The new movie, entitled “BlackBerry” explains what happened.
The story begins in 1996, with a Canadian company called Research in Motion (or RIM) and the co-founders, Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, who hardly look like they’re starting a revolution.
They walk into a sales presentation armed with a set of poster boards and an easel. But they have a vision of a device that can use the Internet to handle pager messages, e-mails, and a lot more—the beginnings of what we would call a smartphone.
A corporate shark named Jim Balsillie sees an opportunity—and he needs one, since he’s just been fired for being an ambitious double-dealer. He offers to manage and sell the RIM phone, if he is made co-owner of the company.
The movie shows the drama—and often, the dry humour—of two wildly incompatible business cultures. The employees at RIM are technical wizards, but naïve hippie nerds, who would just as soon linger on the Net, discussing the finer plot points of “Star Wars.”
Balsillie is loud, tactless, demanding and wouldn’t know a Jedi mind trick if it bit him. But Lazaridis takes him on, reasoning that they need a predator to ward off other predators.
This oil-and-water combination works—sometimes just barely. One sales pitch in a corporate boardroom is a cliff-hanger worthy of Indiana Jones. Lazaridis is delayed, so Balsillie—alone and completely unable to speak Tech—confidently but desperately blows smoke up the backsides of the suits he’s addressing.
As the movie tells it, BlackBerry’s decline was in part because this awkward partnership bore the seeds of its own destruction; in part because Balsillie skirted the law in building up the company; and largely because of a vast disturbance in the Force—that is, Steve Jobs unveiled his new generation of the iphone.
“Blackberry” is the equal, or better, than that other recent business saga in theaters--“Air” with its star-studded cast and drama about a tennis shoe sponsorship.
Maybe “BlackBerry" has been neglected because it’s a story set in the Great White North, and some of the major creative names here are Canadian. They include Jay Baruchel, who plays Lazaridis, the techno-geek turned doomed business mogul. He’s known for comedies such as “Tropic Thunder.”
And Toronto-born Matt Johnson is not only the director and co-writer of the film, but also plays Doug, the dumpy headband-wearing original partner who sees his company sliding into the corporate mire.
American actor Glenn Howerton plays Balsillie with nuance as well as temperament.
“BlackBerry”’s ringtone scores four-and-a-half on a scale of five. If it’s slipped out of Salt Lake theaters, watch for it On Demand, or drop a hint to the Park City Film Series.