You know what makes for a beyond-worthwhile movie about the mostly-forgotten losing team? The trick lies in the change of scenery from the threadbare perspective of representing the losers in a drab, depressing light. I mean, for Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie to take the epoch-making creation of the world’s earliest smartphone to the level that they did, they had to have been cutthroat geniuses, right? And these two supremely intriguing individuals’ wildly problematic and grandstanding genius is what Matt Johnson’s biographical comedy-drama BlackBerry taps into. A film shot as though they’d hired The Office‘s documentary crew, playing out like Succession with a hint of The Social Network thrown in; there’s not an aspect that, unlike its subject matter, BlackBerry didn’t flourish in. What rides the coattails of the humor-clad narrative pulsating with the acute rush of success and the severe damage of the fall is the notorious reminder that you either surf alongside the tides of change or you drown.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘BlackBerry’?
I bet you didn’t expect every frame and exchange in BlackBerry to be loaded with symbolism, but here we are. And in case you were wondering why Johnson and Matthew Miller’s script is this flawless, it’s because the two seem to be fluent in nerd and smug egomaniac at the same time. It simply doesn’t get better than watching an arrogant Jim butcher his own career by prioritizing his behemoth ego over the boss’ orders. And it also doesn’t get more hopelessly nerdy than Mike OCD-ing all over the constant buzzing noise emanating from a China-manufactured device while risking his chance at convincing Jim to give his invention a shot. Now, why would someone like Jim even pay attention to a sales pitch that is probably the worst anybody has ever given in history?
Well, it’s a chain reaction of bad things, really. There’s no way a college-dropout genius like Mike would’ve gotten the world to appreciate his groundbreaking creation when his very frame oozed a lack of confidence. Add to that his partner Doug’s futile mollycoddling, and you’ve got an office full of pop-culture-obsessed manchild gamer bros who evidently are going nowhere with their work. Granted, it’s not easy to get the employees in order when they don’t know if they’re even going to get paid. And the blame for that lies entirely on the shoulders of Mike and Doug, who, as brainy-smart as they are, are completely lacking in any pragmatic sense of business. With a giant loan hanging over Mike like a hangman’s noose, he’s gone ahead and let USR take him for a fool.
RIM’s (Research in Motion’s) only saving grace comes through Jim’s worst nightmare. Whether you take Jim getting fired as a blessing or a curse depends entirely on whether you take the world getting a clickety-clacking BlackBerry in its palm as a technological revolution that walked the path to life’s modernization while paving it at the same time. Because that’s why the whole thing even goes down. Without Jim storming into the dingy establishment the RIM people called an office, there would be no BlackBerry, and it would still be a while until people even got to know that they only needed a cell phone to call, page, email, and browse the web.
How Did BlackBerry Become A Success?
For the guys who were the smartest brains in the RIM lobby, change came with the emergence of a new secretary to the new co-CEO—a girl so pretty they could hardly believe she was gracing their shabby office with her presence. Although it was a bitter pill for him to swallow, Mike was reasonably quick to realize that he couldn’t let his myopic best friend Doug hold him back. And his faith in Jim’s draconian, borderline-abusive methods grew tenfold when he knew that Jim’d mortgaged his own house and placed his entire life on the line to give RIM a fighting chance. But here’s the thing about Jim. You’d think that he voluntarily got up on the tightrope because he believed in Mike’s genius. But that was hardly the case. Jim was obsessed with the urge to run the show. It was that very destructive ego that had gotten him fired. He took one look at the fumbly nerds at RIM and knew that he could rule them with a baton.
It was Jim’s weirdly charming overconfidence that got him through the door at Bell Atlantic, even though Mike’d forgotten to bring the prototype that was supposed to go with their pitch. But just like a product is as good as its salesman, the salesman’s got no shot at striking a home run when he doesn’t even know the first thing about the product. Luckily, Mike was right behind him with the prototype and a manic speech about how his smartphone wouldn’t drain the network servers, unlike all the other works-in-progress. And there it was—the creation of the world-changing BlackBerry, named apparently after a food stain on Mike’s shirt. From Oprah Winfrey talking it up on her show to the luxury office RIM then had, BlackBerry’s immeasurable success changed everything for RIM and its people.
Why Did Jim Commit Stock Fraud?
You have to remember that even though BlackBerry was the first to perfect the intrigue that was a smartphone, other companies weren’t sitting on their hands. The closest thing to competition that BlackBerry had around 2003 was Palm Inc.’s PalmPilot, which, albeit nowhere close to BlackBerry in demand or functionality, was still holding a considerable share of the market. The higher you elevate yourself, the closer you get to the predatory claws of the hawks. And as soon as BlackBerry made the second revolutionary development, which was the first encrypted and unlimited free texting service, Palm Inc. was knocking on RIM’s door with a hostile takeover threat. Now why weren’t Mike and Jim enthusiastic about the merger Palm had offered?
For Mike, it was the prospect of combining his state-of-the-art creation with the substandard Palm Pilot. And you know the kind of trouble Jim would have coming to terms with the possibility of relinquishing his position of power. And while Jim was driven by a rather questionable agenda, he was also smart enough to hold off Palm Inc. with a false promise. But good intentions aren’t always followed by good methods. And the dooming curse of all-consuming ambition is chaotic recklessness. To avoid the hostile takeover, Jim needed to get RIM’s stock value up to an impossible extent. And if the process entails backdating their stocks to promise the newly hired engineers a skyscraper amount, turning their sales department into a den of male models charming the naive rich folks into eating up 500,000 BlackBerries, and having the overwhelmed network server fall apart like a card castle, so be it. Of course, Mike was on top of it with the assistance of the great minds they’d poached from companies like Google, but that one crash that rendered most of the BlackBerries useless for a while was ominously foretelling of the storm heading their way.
‘BlackBerry’ Ending, Explained – Why Did BlackBerry Fail?
In making Jim undeniably charming, BlackBerry doesn’t necessarily intend to distract you from everything that is wrong with him. At the end of the day, he’s a narcissistic bully who gets things done and is a master delegator. While the fruity success stories fool you with the sunshine and butterflies representation of how constructive determination is the only thing keeping the machine running, a story like that of BlackBerry shows you the ugly side of success. The key here is determination too, but the deciding factors include exploiting employees until they’ve forgotten what their families look like, turning a lackadaisical work culture into a tyrannical convent of sorts, and setting goals that the workers would lose their minds over without ever receiving any of the credit they were due.
Success at this level is abusive, exploitative, and capitalistic. And however much you’d like to believe that BlackBerry’s peak in 2003 wasn’t a combination of all these bitter factors, you’d likely see the truth if you just went over every change that Jim brought to the work culture. But here’s the catch. Overworking your employees to death would only yield so much if you didn’t have a sustainable game plan. And at some point, Jim and Mike seemed to have run out of their combined creative energy. To understand their predicament better, you don’t even have to look too far. While Steve Jobs’ mystical creation of a smartphone with a touchpad was believed to be BlackBerry’s doom-bringer nemesis, it was, when all was said and done, Mike and Jim’s own follies that rang the bell for BlackBerry’s impending end.
A Genius is something Mike has time and again proven himself to be. But as smart and creative as he was, what he lacked was the necessary understanding of the peripherals of staying in the game. He loathed change just as much as he hated Chinese products. So much so that he was in complete denial about the kind of panoptic success that Apple was aiming for. He’d refused to even consider that RIM needed a more dynamic, more perceptive approach to the changing times. So all he was holding onto in the face of a wave that was threatening to end him and his legacy was an uninspired trackpad on the BlackBerry Bold. And where was Jim when all of this was going down, you ask? He’d almost dissociated from anything to do with the company he was the co-CEO of. For a man with detrimental aspirations, it was only expected that he’d be bored just staying in one place. But even a change in career would’ve had a less severe impact on his and the company’s future. He was starving for an adrenaline rush, and Mike’s genius just wasn’t cutting it anymore. So he went about seeking it in all the wrong places and in the worst ways possible. Remember when Mike made Jim promise that they would, under no circumstances, lie to each other? Well, that didn’t work out too well, did it? That one hard-hitting scene where Mike lies to Jim about the Apple scare and Jim lies to Mike about just how consequential the SEC investigation will be should tell you that BlackBerry was already done for. This is one clear instance of BlackBerry taking creative liberties with its narrative because the real RIM was investigated by the OSC.
Jim hid himself in a self-orchestrated conflict with the NHL and basically went on a rampage, trying to hold on to a sense of authority and control, whereas Mike gave in to moving manufacturing to China just to stay afloat. I wholeheartedly believe that Mike would’ve been capable of competing with the iPhone if he had only accepted that his last creation wasn’t the best that the world was ever going to get. It was his supreme overestimation of the BlackBerry that made him blind to the truth that technology wouldn’t stop evolving. And Jim, on the other hand, must have been going through a psychotic case of denial to think that dodging the SEC’s call would keep him and RIM safe. What was he even thinking, if he was thinking anything at all? How did the two ever hope to outrun the change by bringing in more baton-wielding authority figures in the office to tame the employees and implementing updates that the world had already moved past?
You might have thought that Doug was an idiot. And at times, very evidently, he was. But he was smart enough to not go down with the ship and he sold his shares when they were still of considerable value. But Jim and Mike, well, they were in too deep to make a run for it. And when it was time to save what was left of RIM, Mike didn’t even blink before sacrificing the man who wasn’t there when he needed him the most. It’s rather ironic and peculiarly heartbreaking that Jim had just realized what they needed to do to fix it when the SEC was just in the next room, waiting to make him pay for the stock fraud. But even then—even after paying dearly to get RIM in the clear—Mike’s time was over. It’s the absolute devastation of failure written on the genius’ face as he compulsively fixes the incessant buzzing noise in the large shipment from China. Sure, BlackBerry’s imminent death was in part Mike’s own doing. But you still feel an ache in your heart when you see his helplessly desperate state—almost about to break down in tears as he opens each box that would soon be returned by the unsatisfied customers—as though the buzzing were the dying gasps of a mad scientist’s greatest creation the world had outrun.