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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Matt Johnson
scr Matt Johnson, Matthew Miller
prd Fraser Ash, Kevin Krikst, Niv Fichman, Matthew Miller
with Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Michelle Giroux, SungWon Cho, Mark Critch, Ethan Eng
release UK Mar.23 gff,
Is it streaming?
With sparky characters and an energetic pace, this film traces the true story of the pioneers who invented the wireless technology that is now ubiquitous. By adding email connectivity, BlackBerry mobile phones changed the industry, opening the door for the touch-screen devices that replaced them. With doc-style filmmaking actor-director Matt Johnson maintains a witty tone that's thoroughly engaging, even as the movie stretches into a somewhat over-extended conclusion.
In 1996, Canadian inventor Mike (Baruchel) and his sidekick Doug (Johnson) come up with a way to combine a pager, phone and computer into one device. Although dubious, rival executive Jim (Howerton) sees the potential, quits his job and becomes head of Mike's company Research In Motion. By 2003, their BlackBerry phones have transformed the market, putting them in a constant race to upgrade mobile networks to keep up with their tech. Four years later, they're the industry leader. This is when Apple introduces the iPhone, which Mike dismisses as a joke, to his peril.
Cleverly capturing the gaming-nerd vibe of the tech sector, the film is infused with lively character-based humour. This makes each brainy innovation and intense business negotiation surprisingly entertaining to watch. So when things take a turn, and BlackBerry struggles to maintain its lead in a rapidly shifting landscape, there's a strong emotional kick because real people are affected. But when the company falters, the plot's momentum begins to flag. So the film runs out of steam even as a series of significant events unfold in its final half-hour.
Baruchel is terrific as the brilliant perfectionist Mike, whose geeky demeanour masks a steely determination. He repeatedly refuses to take shortcuts, proudly holding on to quality over everything else. This helps make it understandable that he fails to see where things are heading, but watching him get left behind is heartbreaking. Alongside him, Johnson creates a scruffy goofball vibe that's exactly as annoying as it should be. And Howerton is hilariously intense as the short-fused, business-minded Jim. Starry side roles add superb textures.
Throughout this story, thriller-like undercurrents emerge in the rippling tension between the technical, business and marketing sides of the industry. The intense pressure to both survive and succeed adds vivid ethical dilemmas, most notably when Jim begins bending the rules. Watching these people play fast and loose is often thrilling, mainly because the company becomes a scrappy character with its own story arc. So its meteoric rise and ultimate fall becomes a stomach-churning cinematic rollercoaster ride.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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