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  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Photograph: XYZ Films

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This rollicking Silicon Valley satire is 'The Social Network’ on steroids

Hollywood’s recent love affair with capitalist origin stories – Air for Nike’s Air Jordans, Tetris for the Nintendo game that stole your 1980s, and The Beanie Bubble for the fluffy collectible of the same name – clicks round to arguably the juiciest story of the lot: the frankly bananas story of Canadian smartphone company BlackBerry.

At its peak in 2011, there were 85 million people worldwide glued to a device so addictive, everyone was referring to it as the ‘Crackberry’. Within a decade it was toast. So how did a tiny company in Waterloo, Ontario run by a handful of nerds rise so fast and fall so quickly? And why did none of them see the iPhone coming? BlackBerry probably won’t end up on too many MBA syllabuses – this is the human side of the story, not the graphs and charts – but it has a blast rooting around the debris trying to find out. 

Matt Johnson, who also writes and directs, plays Doug Fregin, engineer and business partner to tech whizz Mike Lazaridis (How to Train Your Dragon’s Jay Baruchel). With their small team of pals at Research In Motion, they beaver away on wireless data devices with a naivety that leaves them vulnerable to bigger fish. Still, there’s video games to play and the company movie night has ‘Star Wars’ on the slate. 

Enter Jim Balsillie (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton), the kind of hard-nosed business type who eats rivals for breakfast and has no fucking idea what ‘The Force’ is. In short, he’s exactly what the company needs. Soon he’s renaming it ‘BlackBerry’ and sealing big deals for the company’s innovative new smartphone. 

For those weedy tech bros, it was like inviting Jaws into a kids’ paddling pool. In an Oscar-worthy turn, Howarton turbocharges the whole thing with volcanic rage: smashing payphones, screaming abuse, and somehow finding someone even scarier than him, Michael Ironside’s corporate gun-for-hire, to instill the fear of god into the team. (Ironside, of course, made someone’s head explode in Scanners and he seems on the cusp of repeating the trick here.)

Even more than The Social Network, where Aaron Sorkin’s script treats Mark Zuckerberg and co like flawed deities, this blackly comic corporate drama finds something intrinsically ridiculous about these egotistical men. 

It’s all helped by some nicely judged supporting turns. Cary Elwes is reptilian as a corporate raider looking to buy out BlackBerry, and Mad Men’s Rich Sommer a voice of quiet reason amid the madness as the Google data wonk baffled to be offered $10 million to join BlackBerry. 

An Oscar-worthy Glenn Howarton turbocharges the whole thing with volcanic rage

Based on ‘Losing the Signal’, a forensic account of the company’s implosion by finance journos Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, there’s a compellingly rocky bromance at the story’s heart, too. The dweeby, tentative Lazaridis and the more easygoing but defensive Fregin, permanently clad in a red bandana like a man living in his own version of The Deer Hunter, slowly drift apart – one prizing growth, the other desperately clinging to a beloved working culture, movie night and all.

As an exploration of what motivates people at work – and what doesn’t – it’s smartly and subtly observed. The Office-style mock-doc camerawork is forever searching out crestfallen looks and slumped shoulders as camaraderie and epic ‘Doom’ seshs slowly get replaced by a bullying culture, panicky product launches and visits from the SEC. Maybe it does deserve its own MBA module after all. 

In UK cinemas Oct 6

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Matt Johnson
  • Screenwriter:Matthew Miller, Matt Johnson
  • Cast:
    • Jay Baruchel
    • Matt Johnson
    • Glenn Howerton
    • Kelly Van der Burg
    • Martin Donovan
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