May 12, 2023 - Technology

Canada's tech underdog story hits the big screen with "BlackBerry"

Photo still from "BlackBerry" movie of Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton.

Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis and Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie in Matt Johnson’s "BlackBerry." Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films

Hollywood has spawned several movies about tech giant Apple, but Canada finally has its own tech movie — chronicling BlackBerry phone-maker Research in Motion.

Driving the news: Directed by Matt Johnson and starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton and Johnson himself, "BlackBerry" draws from the 2015 book "Losing the Signal" about the company, with a comedic spin and memorable performances. It hits theaters Friday.

The big picture: The movie chronicles the BlackBerry phone period in Research in Motion's life as a company, from the hiring of former CEO Jim Balsillie in the '90s to make the device a reality, to the beginning of its decline with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.

  • To not skimp on the drama, the movie includes the stock accounting scandal that eventually led to Balsillie's (first) resignation in 2007.

What they're saying: "I played Jim Balsillie ... an extremely, extremely competitive man, who approached his work in the same way that Michael Jordan did," Howerton tells Axios of the protagonist he portrayed.

  • "Jim has the type of personality it takes to launch a business like this ... the type of personality that’s like, 'F*** you, this is happening,'” he adds. (Balsillie's other claim to fame are his three unsuccessful attempts to buy hockey teams.)
  • On the other hand, Baruchel describes his character, RIM co-founder Mike Lazaridis, as "a dysfunctional artist ... he only makes sense in one ecosystem, which is the lab," adding, "He has a clear, specific, black-and- white value system and a clear view of what he wants to do."

Between the lines: While the movie offers a very broad sense of the events that took place, it’s more preoccupied with conveying the essence and spirit of its characters than exact historical accuracy.

  • “I defer to Werner Herzog’s concept of the ecstatic truth with this," Johnson told The Verge.
  • "He’s quite adamant about the idea that there is a truth beyond the facts. ... And that the truth, the real truth of who somebody is, of what somebody did, is beyond an encapsulation of the facts of what they did and when and what they said," he added.

Canadian vibes: "The movie has a lot to say about being next door … but also how we see ourselves, and about the 'small man complex,'" says Baruchel, who is Canadian, of his country’s desire to measure up to American achievements.

  • No scene better captures this than one in which Baruchel’s Lazaridis corrects Howerton’s Balsillie during a moment of frustration with a lack of technical progress: Yes, he says, the company’s engineers are the Canada.
  • "Matt Johnson has been very clear that RIM […] is a stand-in for him and his gang of movie nerds in Toronto," he adds. Johnson also plays Doug Fregin, RIM's other co-founder.

My thought bubble: Canada finally gets its “Pirates of Silicon Valley” — the best movie about Apple, in my opinion (sorry, Ashton Kutcher and Aaron Sorkin).

1 📞 thing: Baruchel told Axios that he owned several BlackBerry phones over the years until two years ago, and loved them tremendously.

  • Howerton, on the other hand, said he never owned one, citing an aversion to being reachable via email at any time. However, he now has a smartphone because it does a lot more than connect him to email, he admits.
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