‘BlackBerry’ Is Definitive Movie of the Current Corporate Cinema Wave

Matt Johnson's exploration of the rise and fall of BlackBerry is funny and incisive without the need for company valorization.

by Nick Kush

Although it might not have always seemed like it, the recent wave of movies and television shows about businesses and their founders is part of the logical next step in the movie industry. In a time when most tentpole movies are based on that thing you know, it only makes sense that more modestly-budgeted fare would also become based on that thing you know. Just replace the capes with company logos.

Removing my personal cynicism, we’re also far enough into the tech founder craze to where we can comment on each of them with the additional context that the passage of time allows. And for a movie like BlackBerry, that space makes the events that unfold funnier than they appear on the screen; knowing that each of these characters is about to become extinct by an Apple-sized meteor imbues each scene with an added bit of comical futility.

Like most corporate dramas, BlackBerry starts at the company’s humble beginnings, this time with Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson), leaders of the scrappy upstart tech business Research in Motion, sheepishly walking into Jim Balsillie’s office (Glenn Howerton) to pitch their prototype. Ballsillie rejects them swiftly, but he’s quickly canned later that day for being an absolute ass in a board meeting. Out of options, he joins Research in Motion as their Co-CEO. Seeing through his corporate schtick, Doug immediately calls Jim out as a shark. Mike, on the other hand, is far more willing to see how it works out, thinking that they need a “tough guy” in the room with them to make sure they don’t get taken advantage of — the movie is fully aware of the irony here in each passing scene.

For veterans of corporate cinema, BlackBerry‘s rise-and-fall structure is recognizable. However, this isn’t a Wikipedia-like story that covers the basics of a true event and nothing else. Matt Johnson and his cinematographer Jared Raab shoot each scene with a jumpy handheld camera with plenty of picture-perfect zooms for added laughs. Think Succession, but replace the Roys with a large swath of nerdy engineers and a group of ball-breaking suits attempting to corral them.

Johnson’s DIY spirit — which nicely mirrors the attitude that Doug and the rest of his engineers have about their work  — and game performances from the entire cast give BlackBerry plenty of personality. They also make each scene positively exhilarating to watch as precise editing and instantly quotable dialogue constantly collide off each other. Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller’s script somehow manages to thread the needle between making the tech jargon very clear but never stops to explain everything. There isn’t a Big Short-esque breakdown of how cell towers work, but you leave certain scenes with a similar sense of understanding.

Perhaps I’ve buried the lead here, did I mention Glenn Howerton is incredible? After years on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as the deeply smarmy, psychotic, and hilarious Dennis, his role in BlackBerry as a hockey-loving megalomaniac is a perfect fit. Howerton is an absolute ghoul, taking all of the absurd, angry ticks of past dick-swinging financial executive performances and turning the dial up a few more notches. He’s so good, that you stop staring at his obvious bald cap after a few minutes.

His counterpart, Jay Baruchel, is tasked with the less showy role, but it’s still suitably nuanced. BlackBerry decides to jump ahead at specific points in the company’s history, but characters’ reactions in certain scenes make their later downfall very clear. It’s proper use of real estate; the foreshadowing is strong enough to where we don’t need to see the moment Mike breaks bad.

Unlike Ben Affleck’s Air which, while endlessly watchable, still ends with a somewhat unexamined rah-rah enthusiasm for capitalism, BlackBerry makes its thoughts known without ever becoming too punishing. With Apple’s dominance staring them in the face, there’s an acknowledged panic in the characters — especially Baruchel’s Mike as he’s relegated to contemplating how he abandoned all his morals in the name of success — but there’s also an unspoken fear of obsolescence. That, even for those who embrace the most capitalistic excesses, they are just as quickly tossed aside when the time comes, destined to become a goofy footnote.

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1 comment

Nick Kush May 26, 2023 - 4:35 pm

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