BlackBerry (2023)
February 25, 2024 6:11 PM - Subscribe

Two mismatched entrepreneurs — egghead innovator Mike Lazaridis and cut-throat businessman Jim Balsillie — joined forces in an endeavour that was to become a worldwide hit in little more than a decade. The story of the meteoric rise and catastrophic demise of the world's first smartphone.

Jeannette Catsoulis at the NYT: ‘BlackBerry’ Review: Big Dreams, Little Keyboards (gift link)

Matt Zoller Seitz at
Howerton assures himself a spot on any future list of classic scene-stealing jerks: with his shaved-bald head, narrowed eyes, and pouty lips, he’s the greatest supporting character that the young Bruce Willis never got to play. All three actors capture a quality that defined the ‘90s and aughts in both technology and finance—a self-flattering need to affect some “warrior spirit” and revel in the spectacle of destroying one’s enemies financially and virtually as if a village had been sacked and burned rather than a signature added to a document. As in satires like “American Psycho,” the behavior is appallingly funny, and funny because it’s appalling. This movie is about people whose successes and failures originate in the same place: a tragedy shot and edited like an action comedy.
posted by General Malaise (11 comments total)
This movie is way better than it had any right to be. You look around at the recent movies about consumer products, like Air, The Beanie Bubble, hell, even reaching back to the Social Network, and you see basically the same movies over and over again. This one, though, has the pathos of what I guess could be considered different kind of film. The entire cast is amazing: Jay Baruchel is a delight, and yet Glenn Howerton steals every single scene he appears in.
posted by General Malaise at 6:14 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]

One day in the 00's, I was waiting tables in a fancy restaurant. Three affluent-ish people in suits came in and were waiting for their fourth. One guy was trying to text the last person to see when they were coming but the phone wasn't behaving.


"That's what you get for having a Blackberry," I joked. "Surprised they're still in business."

[Awkward silence]

"He works for Blackberry," the woman next to him said. "We all work for Blackberry."

I was trying to sputter an apology when my backwaiter (it was a really fancy restaurant) came up and started pouring waters.

"Do you have any strong feelings about Blackberry phones?" the woman asked.

"Doomed. Already museum pieces," he said without blinking. "Offer you some bread?"

They had a weird lunch that day I guess.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:57 PM on February 25 [18 favorites]

To be rather picky,, the Nokia 9000 launched in 1996, Blackberry's email/pager hybrid launch in 99 and their acknowledged smartphone arrived 2002. It's the world's first smartphone if you use world in the same context as MLB's World Series.

...but I can forgive a lot when you cast Michael Ironside.
posted by ewan at 5:22 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]

Thought this was a pretty fun, zippy movie. The third act left me wondering if there were a lot of deleted scenes somewhere; the entire "Balsillie schemes to move an NHL team to Canada" subplot felt like it was cut and then explained in dialogue after the fact.

But Saul Rubinek! Michael Ironside! And yes, Howerton runs away with the film.
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 6:52 AM on February 26

the entire "Balsillie schemes to move an NHL team to Canada" subplot felt like it was cut and then explained in dialogue after the fact.

There's two version of this movie - a theatrical version and miniseries (aired on CBC in the Canada and AMC+ in the US). The miniseries features more of that subplot.

I live in the area where RIM / Blackberry started. So I had a lot of friends who ended up there for a time (lots of jokes about Rim Jobs...) and would bump into Lazaridis pretty regularly who was a pretty nice generally and frequented businesses locally. He seemed to know everybody and cared about the town. Balsillie was much more stand offish - tho we would spot him when he would wear casual clothes it always looked weird.

As an aside, this movie goes hard on the local sites to the point that it is kind of funny if you live here or are nostalgic for your time here.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:28 AM on February 26 [5 favorites]

I was wondering how local it was, Ashwagandha. I thought I heard it was shot mainly in Hamilton, not Waterloo Region, but I guess even that's close enough if I feel like playing "spot the local landmark."

Are there any early encounters with Canadian tech journalists (especially ones who question the utility of producing such a device)? If so, it will shoot to the top of my must-watch list.
posted by sardonyx at 12:52 PM on February 26

To be fair, since RIM / Blackberry KW has really been built up and has lost a lot of its industrial past that was pretty evident in the 90s and 2000s. Hamilton, I think, has only gotten more run down since then so probably fits the part better.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:01 PM on February 26

I just finished this last night, and thought it was great, although I might be interested in watching the miniseries; one of the things that I kept expecting to see, until it was suddenly 2003, was the effect that 9/11 had on the company fortunes, because I'd always read that 9/11 was a watershed moment for the device because it continued to work in Washington and New York when the phone system was overwhelmed and crashed. I also expected to see the Handspring (then Palm, after Palm bought the company) Treo, which had a very Blackberryish keyboard and was a serious competitor until the iPhone showed up and ate everyone's lunch. I had a Treo, and was giving serious thought to the BlackBerry Pearl but decided to try an iPhone, and found out that the lack of a physical keyboard was not that big of a deal.

Anyway, this movie was fun, and even if some of the beats seemed familiar (the scruffies let in the stuffies, who slowly but inexorably take over), the principal actors are good. (Ironside was also in the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos miniseries The Dropout). It was especially chilling when Lazaridis had his makeover that turned him into a sort of yuppie Targaryen. I was also amused at the epilogue which drily informed us that Doug Fregin cashed out right around the time that the iPhone dropped.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:25 AM on February 29 [2 favorites]

I worked in start-up land for several years prior to 9/11, and I admired the BlackBerry devices I saw some people using. Then I left "fashionable" software development and worked in the suburbs for several years ... and I forgot all about BlackBerry, Palm, and so forth. I'm stunned that BlackBerry was still in business as of 2012.

I still like the look of the BlackBerry, and I sympathize with Lazardis' quixotic attachment to the physical keyboard on his devices. And the late-model BlackBerry shown in action at the end of the film? Still think it sports a lovelier, friendlier UI than anything Apple or Google has come up with in their mobile devices.

Loved the physical transformation of Lazardis during the film, although even with the white "maverick" mane, he still didn't look like he fit. I'll have to see what he's doing now.
posted by rabia.elizabeth at 6:09 AM on March 5

True facts versus artistic license. Apparently Balsillie is not an ogre after all, and Lazardis was not unduly attached to the keyboard :-)
posted by rabia.elizabeth at 6:16 AM on March 5

One of my most vivid memories of my Biglaw career is forcing myself into consciousness at some ungodly hour in a Delaware hotel room, receiving a "coded" message that the case was settling the morning before the trial, and flinging the Blackberry that I'd had right by my head as I slept clear across the room. Then going back to sleep. That was in 2008, I believe.
posted by praemunire at 11:42 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]

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