The end of BlackBerry, the new movie directed by Canadian filmmaker Matt Johnson, is likely spoiled by what phone is—or, rather, which one is not—in your pocket.
The film tells the story of the rise and fall of Research in Motion, a Canadian tech company started by friends Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin, that was responsible for changing cellphones forever with the development of the once-ubiquitous BlackBerry.
Lazaridis, played by Jay Baruchel, is the brains of the organization. He is a low-key and methodical genius, quietly developing the technology and processes required to integrate email on handheld devices in a ragtag office that functions more like an internet cafe for the motley band of computer nerds that makes up RIM’s team. It’s not until he and Fregin, who is played as a loveable doofus by the film’s director Matt Johnson, team up with the raw-nerved and ruthless businessman Jim Balsillie that the company gets in the right meetings to build their smartphone empire.
Stories about the development of culture-changing products are a popular film subject right now, but what makes BlackBerry unique from recent business and tech dramas like this year’s Air or 2015’s Steve Jobs is how modest the depiction of the protagonists’ rise and fall feels in the context of today’s technological landscape. That’s not to say the film is unengaging or devoid of dramatic verve—Glenn Howerton’s performance as Jim Balsillie, in particular, is hilariously unhinged—but the rise of the BlackBerry product was not powered by an eccentric and complicated genius like Steve Jobs, and its fall was not the result of corporate greed or unbridled ego, though these things do play a part in the narrative. Throughout the film, Lazaridis is steadfast in his vision of what a BlackBerry is and what it is not, and it's this integrity that briefly places him on top of the world. However, eventually the market intervenes.
BlackBerry is appropriately reverent and melancholy in its telling of the nearly forgotten first leap in an ongoing tech revolution. It’s not an ode to the thinkers and creators who stay on top by anticipating the shifting tides in their markets, nor is it a cautionary tale to the ones who don’t—it’s the story of a man who gave the world something it wanted before it moved on to wanting something else. (Rated R for language. Streaming on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, and other platforms)