Directed by: Matt Johnson
Written by: Matt Johnson, Matthew Miller
Starring: Glenn Howerton, Jay Baruchel, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Cary Elwes
Released: August 17, 2023
Grade: B-


I recently played golf with an American man who was on the 20th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York when struck by a plane in September 2001.  He was able to escape using the fire stairs but, not realising the gravity of the situation, he left his BlackBerry device in the office.  This made it harder to get in touch with worried friends and family in the aftermath to let them know he was safe and well.

In addition to the fascinating tale of survival, the man’s story triggered by memory of BlackBerry phones.  It’s a brand name I hadn’t heard in years!  Their first device was an email pager released in 1999 and by 2010, they’d beaten the likes of Motorola, Nokia, and Samsung to control roughly 50% of the smartphone market in the United States.  Today, it’s market share is 0% – the result of poor business decisions, and the rise of Apple’s revolutionary touchscreen iPhone.

Directed by Canadian filmmaker Matt Johnson, who also has a feature role in the movie, BlackBerry draws from a 2015 book and creates a semi-fictionalised history of the company inside of two hours.  It is focused on three specific time periods.  The first is 1996 when businessman Jim Balsillie (Howerton) teams up with existing CEO Mike Lazaridis (Baruchel) to commercialise the original idea.  The second is 2003 when they dramatically expand operations, with a touch of illegality, to thwart a takeover attempt.  The third is 2007 when things start to go off the rails and competitors make their move.

BlackBerry isn’t as juicy as its source material.  It feels every character has been overdramatised.  During the slow opening act, Baruchel and Johnson portray the co-founders as clueless, socially awkward geeks with zero commercial acumen.  I don’t know how they landed business deals in the first place.  As co-CEO, Glenn Howerton is channelling Ari Gold from Entourage with his no-idea-about-technology, phone-smashing schtick where he verbally denigrates anyone who shares a different view.  It gets tiring and repetitive.

The film’s second hour is the better half.  It’s more interesting to watch these people screw things up than succeed.  That said, the two writers have made odd choices by showing us trivial, unnecessary events, like the drama of cancelling of “movie night” due to a tight deadline, instead of more detail regarding the stock option fraud, and the ice hockey manager fall-out.  Supporting characters, like Michael Ironside as the hard-ass Chief Operating Officer, are also underutilised.

The Blackberry tale will provide great fodder in business textbooks but as a movie, this rags-to-riches-to-rags film isn’t as engaging as I’d hoped.