Economies of Scale: Our Review of ‘Blackberry’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 12, 2023
Economies of Scale: Our Review of ‘Blackberry’

Breakthrough moments can also require some scale backs…

In theatres today, the story of the rise and fall of Blackberry actually has some odd parallels to the life and the career of the filmmaker behind it; Canada’s own Matt Johnson.  On one end this is an incredibly self-assured effort and an incredibly well made narrative that puts us into the hubris of the moment as we see the ascension of RIM injected with some genuine humor in this “true” story.  However on the other this could also be a signal point in a career that is sitting on the brink of some real potential.

‘BlackBerry’  tells  the  story  of  Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and  Jim  Balsillie (Glenn Howerton),  the  two men  that  charted  the  course  of  the spectacular  rise  and  catastrophic demise  of  the  world’s  first smartphone.

With this being writer/director Matt Johnson’s third (and undoubtedly biggest) feature effort to date; Blackberry shows some genuine strength and poise and Johnson takes his docu-style way of filmmaking to new levels thanks to some fantastic performances.  But with that being said it may also be time for Johnson to stay behind the camera as his projects invariable grow over time.

Johnson brings a unique sense of nostalgia and tension to this story in a way that works better than you’d ever expect as the film feels “of the time” without the false artifice of being a “period piece”. When he combines all that with the well-worn cinematic stylings of the subgenre that follows the rise and fall of company XYZ, he’s manage to craft something that is truly singular to him but still gives audiences the familiar beats that we all know and love.  It’s not trying to be the “Canadian The Social Network” in anyway but Johnson allows us as an audience to truly understand the uphill battle that Research in Motion had as a company because while we do have some standout lead performances, the film does function exceptionally well as an ensemble piece.

Lots of credit has to be given to Jay Baruchel as founder Mike Lazaridis going against type here in this corporate style drama.  While Jay certainly has his idiosyncrasies as an actor and as a comedian that are hard to overcome here, you can easily tell that he’s putting in the works as an actor giving us something very unique and memorable as the Blackberry founder here.

That being said the real standout here is Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie as he tears into each scene with a desperate fervor showing not just a shark like mentality for business that played so far into the grey areas of legality that you could arguably define then as charcoal but also a sense of desperation just underneath the surface that drove him to succeed, by any means necessary.

While there’s an interesting supporting cast that includes the likes of Cary Elwes, Mark Critch, Saul Rubinek and Michael Ironside, Matt Johnson also inserts himself into the ensemble as friend and co-founder Douglas Freigin.

This works in the early stages of the film as Johnson brings yet another wild eyed variation of characters that he has played in his previous outings for some good moments of levity.  However as the narrative moves forward, he does not and we ultimately get distracted seeing the director of a film, insert himself into it.

While we certainly can’t argue with the necessity for indie filmmakers to take on roles in their own films, as Johnson’s projects get bigger (as we anticipate they will) he needs to fade more into the background as an actor to let others shine.

Made on a budget of a scant $5 million, Blackberry looks and feels way bigger then you’d anticipate for a production of this size.  For that all the credit in the world deserves to go to Johnson and his team for making a “trueish” story that is filled with tension and some well-placed laughter along the way.  However as an actor, it would behoove Johnson to take his on screen appearance more the vein of an Alfred Hitchcock rather than a Woody Allen, it could hurt him if he doesn’t and given the talent the man obviously has behind the camera, that’s the last thing any of us want to see.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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