‘BlackBerry’ Review: A Gritty, Cynical Business Drama

Kenny Miles reviews BlackBerry, an entertaining, gritty, and absorbing biopic that's well worth your time.

The rise and fall of the world’s first prominent smartphone, BlackBerry is an energetic re-telling of the business story full of bombastic moments and small intimate nuances. This comedic doc-drama movie is somewhat based on the 2016 book “Losing the Signal,” it likely gets the general facts correct, but it seems to include dramatic flair beyond creative licensing. I was amused by several moments, but a highlight capturing the essence of the movie was how the best engineers in the world” or Canada at least, came up with the name of the phone.

Jay Baruchel delivers a riveting performance from a creative who has a vision awkwardly realized and planned out. (His third act with the grey hair didn’t work for me as much as his performance beforehand.) However, Glenn Howerton is a revelation as Jim Balsillie, the ruthless and intimidating co-CEO who commands the room in all the scenes he steals. His performance upgrades BlackBerry to another level. Ultimately, BlackBerry is a character study centered on these two roles, exploring strident ambition and stark failure and the means people go to enhance their careers and status.

Director Matt Johnson, who garnered attention with the underappreciated Operation Avalanche, is just as quirky and dry with the shaky cam faux-doc style here. The lively opening credits give the BlackBerry device cultural context. He embeds viewers into the chaotic uncertainty of start-up culture and gives an honest perspective of the struggles of starting and maintaining an organization with all the moving parts. One of the best moments involves assembling an early model BlackBerry with a calculator, a TV remote, a Nintendo Game Boy, and a Speak & Spell. The style gave the business bio-pic a more authentic feel but made me yearn for an in-depth documentary series.

Similar to Ben Affleck’s Air from last month, BlackBerry leans into innovation and brand storytelling a bit, but this is the darker side of capitalism of cutthroat dealings and shady attitudes. A movie about the good and bad venturing into building a significant business, BlackBerry is very entertaining and rarely dull. One of the best moments is when the team watches the iPhone presentation. The end is near! A minor issue I had with the movie was how the scenes taking place in the 2000s seemed to lean into the nostalgia of the 80s and 90s and, besides a few songs, made little cultural references to the year’s setting. Regardless, this is an excellent drama with amusing moments and cringe-worthy downfalls that is well worth your time.

Blackberry is now playing in theaters.

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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