Starring: Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Martin Donovan, Saul Rubinek
Runtime: 118 mins. Reviewed in Aug 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
The development of the BlackBerry – the business, the rise and fall of the company of the world’s first smartphone.
For many of us, sitting at our computers, the 1990s does not seem all that long ago. Yet we are amazed at the developments and transitions in our work with IT and what we have lived through. Those born in this 21st-century will find that this film is an excursion back into the 1990s, something of ancient history. But it is a history that should be understood, especially those extraordinary in computing, thinking of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But, what about the BlackBerry? Here are some answers.
The film is billed as a comedy as well a drama, although the issues in it are serious. At the beginning, the audience is warned this is a fictionalised story based on actual characters and events. For those wanting to know more about this history and the characters involved, there is an amount quickly available on Wikipedia (and a more sympathetic presentation of the key characters in real life, especially their considerable philanthropy).
This is a Canadian film and a Canadian story. It focuses on a small somewhat backyard-company of IT developers, Research in Motion. The brains behind the enterprise is Mike Lazaridis, something of a nerdish (Baruchel). Supporting him is his good friend, Doug Fregin, played by Matt Johnson who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film.
In the 1990s they were working on IT phone developments which led to the BlackBerry. Mike is serious, Doug acts as spur and spokesman (long hair with a bandanna, a cheeky manner). What are they to do with their invention and the need for financial support?
The focus of the film then moves to business, promotion, contracts, especially focusing on Jim Balsillie (Howerton), an ambitious self-promoter who is less than honest in his dealings within his company. After being fired he seeks out Mike and Doug – with significant, and dire, results. Howerton brings the ambitious go-getting Jim dramatically alive. Jim is a powerhouse, pressurising, manoeuvring Mike, hostile to Doug, for more than 10 years wheeler-dealing with big American companies and CEOs, also involved in ice hockey with ambitions to own teams.
Interestingly, there is scarcely a woman to be seen in this film – a worker at Research in Motion and a government investigator. There is no back story given of any of the central characters (though, in real life, they were married with families).
The story of the company’s rise is exhilarating as well as comic. Mike is awkward and despite being called co-CEO his abilities with finance minimal. We meet the company’s staff, experts in their field but rather nerdish, casual in their approach to work, which is evidenced by their postponing work each week for movie night which they loudly and enthusiastically enjoy. But, Jim Balsillie puts an end to that, employing a tough supervisor (veteran Michael Ironside). And Doug becomes more and more bewildered.
But this is a story of rise – and fall. There are Jim’s ambitions which are larger than he can achieve, lots of meetings with executives, possibilities for deals, poaching expert technology from companies such as Google, altering the books for contracts. It catches up.
And then there is Steve Jobs with Mike Lazaridis completely underestimating the impact of the iPhone (and the film includes the sequence where Jobs himself introduces the iPad).
So, a dramatic reminder, of what has gone on behind the scenes, and in public, which has influenced our stooping over our phones and a realisation that they are indispensable for contemporary living, except for those who do not have one.
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