This year, there is a trend in the theaters with movies about companies and their products, which brings us to Matt Johnson’s new film: BlackBerry. Structurally, the film is closer to Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, while visually feeling like a mockumentary. It begins in 1996 as intelligent but socially inept innovator Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel), and his best friend, Doug, (Johnson) are pitching their idea for a new device. Despite having their pitch sorted out, they aren’t prepared for the cut-throat businessman, Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), who’ll listen to their plea for support. While Jim turns them away, he knows a good idea when he hears it. Jim suggests that he take on the role of CEO and help Mike, Doug, and their tiny company go from struggling to the behemoth it could be.
The voyeuristic quality of the camera work keeps the audience at a distance in every scene. We are always looking past a computer monitor, or standing outside of the office where important decisions are being made. It seems symbolic of the relationships between the three core characters. There isn’t a scene where these men are ever truly candid with one another. We don’t ever see them bonding, or having rational discussions. Everything happens inside private rooms or behind closed doors. Well – except for the one moment in a car, where Mike suggests that Jim never lie to him. It’s one of the only moments in the film where we feel like we are supposed to be in the conversation. The technique pays off thematically while giving the film a nervous energy as the camera wavers, always trying to get a better view of the goings-on.
Like Boyle’s Steve Jobs, the film jumps around from 1996 to 2008 with a few stops in between. Much like that film, Johnson chose to focus on key moments in RIM’s history, and the rise of their BlackBerry phone allows the audience to see who the men were by how they reacted to their circumstances. We get a sense of character, rather than needing to see every moment of their lives that led them to the reason we are learning of their existence in the first place. It’s a far more impactful approach to these kinds of stories that also creates a more thrilling theatrical experience.
Of course, if the performances didn’t work, the movie would flounder quickly. Baruchel’s performance is quite incredible, and it is his character who changes the most over the time we are with them. The Mike at the end of this story barely resembles the man we met that was nervously awaiting the pitch. Howerton is dynamic and demands the audience pay attention to him every moment he is on screen, which meshes well with the persona of Balsille presented in the story. Then there is Johnson as the lovable and loyal Doug. His performance is really solid, and the three make this film extremely watchable.
BlackBerry is coming out in a year crowded with competition in the genre including Air, Tetris, and Flamin’ Hot. While the phone that is the namesake of the film eventually faltered, the film seems to stand above its competition. I have enjoyed the other films in this odd product-driven film year, but I think BlackBerry was the most compelling overall.
BlackBerry is in theaters on May 12th.
Rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy.