Tropic Sprockets / BlackBerry

By Ian Brockway

Before the ubiquitous iPhone, there was the BlackBerry mobile device that could make phone calls and create text. It also made a very satisfying clicking sound that seduced users. It took the world by storm. “BlackBerry” by director Matt Johnson is the semi-fictional story of the young men behind this device. [Check for showtimes and trailer.]

Mike Lazarides (Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin ( Matt Johnson) are two best friend computer obsessives who have their own company Research In Motion. While packaging modems, they get the idea to make a mobile phone, one that could email as well as make phone calls. Mike pitches this idea to US Robotics, but they are not impressed saying that they already have a mobile phone in development. Furthermore, Mike learns that US Robotics will not honor their contract for any sold modems. Enter Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) a shark-like man in a suit who likes the concept of a mobile phone, but he is also driven to be the company CEO. Given that Mike and Doug don’t have a product to sell or for that matter, any orders to fill, they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Balsillie offers them $10,000 and they are not in a position to say no.

Even though the new CEO has a hard approach, he is highly skilled at being manipulative; and proves effective. After a shaky New York product meeting where Mike forgets the prototype in the cab, the young wonder is able to think on his feet and he comes up with a catchy product name remembering the berry stain on his shirt, and the orders start to pour in.

This is a true underdog story about two brilliant young men from Canada who paved the way for Steve Jobs to produce his game changing Apple iPhone. Under the film’s lenses, Mike and Doug appear to be humane and altruistic dreamers in action, while Steve Jobs is the ruthless cold fish. Mike and Doug see technology as something creative and organic using children’s toys to make their devices, while Apple’s Steve Jobs is a distant cipher in a black turtleneck, far away and removed on his corporate cloud, buddy buddy with AT&T chief Randall Stephenson.

This is the second strong film for Director Matt Johnson (Operation Avalanche) and a breakout role for actor Baruchel. “BlackBerry” will make you believe in the small Canadian company that could, and you might view Apple in some ways as a dark and insensitive monolith ready to delete everything in its path.

This film deserves to be shown alongside Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” (2017). Beguiling and arresting from start to finish, this is proof that Apple was not the only company to say “Let There Be Light” and have a transformative product, even though, it was Steve Jobs who beat Mike and Doug with a timely touch of one finger.

Write Ian at [email protected]

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