“Remember that phone that everyone owned before an iPhone? This is how they got started and how they got destroyed.”
That’s how director Matt Johnson describes his movie BlackBerry, co-written with producer Matthew Miller. The pair of Torontonians are telling the uniquely Canadian story of the world’s first smartphone, the BlackBerry device, created by Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion (RIM).
In its heyday, the BlackBerry was everywhere — the undisputed king of cellphones, especially among businesspeople. But a handful of years later, the company was almost wiped out completely.
“Recounting the Canadian company’s humble yet chaotic rise to market dominance, BlackBerry is a darkly comedic telling of the tragic tale of a Canadian company that revolutionized the way we communicate, before swiftly plummeting into obsolescence,” according to production company Elevation Pictures.
Canadian actor Jay Baruchel dons silver hair to play Mike Lazaridis, the brain behind the BlackBerry, alongside Johnson, who plays his business partner and best friend Douglas Fregin.
The trailer begins with the pair of co-founders screeching into a parking lot in 1996, late for a meeting with investor Jim Balsillie, who would eventually agree to join the company with the money and business know-how needed to sell their invention to the world.
“Ok, picture a cellphone and an email machine all in one thing,” Fregin pitches Balsillie, played by Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame. “There is a free, wireless internet signal all across North America and nobody has figured out how to use it.”
The trailer teases the chaotic behind-the-scenes story of how the RIM team developed the prototype of the BlackBerry and eventually brought it to market, where it exploded in popularity.
“Seemingly overnight the three men revolutionize the way people work, communicate and connect. Celebrities, politicians and businessmen are now addicted to their Blackberrys,” writes Elevation Pictures.
“The company’s value skyrockets, yet within a few short years shady business dealings, personal grievances, and, perhaps most dangerously, the iPhone, threaten the company’s incredible success.”
We all know how this story ends. BlackBerry was out-innovated in the long run by the sleeker, keyboard-less iPhone, but 2023’s BlackBerry makes the case that there was plenty of internal turmoil within the company that contributed to its downfall.
The movie is an adaptation of the bestselling book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry, written by Canadian journalists Jacquie McNish, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, and Sean Silcoff of the Globe & Mail.
“It’s funny that the film is based on a book called The Rise and Fall of Blackberry,” shares Miller. “Because to me, they’re a huge success story. I know people think they’re a bit of a joke because of their rapid downfall, but they also had a meteoric rise. Blackberry is some of the best of what Canada is capable of.”
‘BlackBerry’ comes to theatres across Canada on May 12.
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