“BlackBerry”, a King Kong vs. Godzilla tale of the first smartphones, premiered to cheers at the Berlin film festival on Friday, exploring geek culture, toxic masculinity and the birth of gadget addiction.
The rollicking two-hour movie by Canadian actor and filmmaker Matt Johnson tells the true story of the heady rise and calamitous fall of one of the great inventions on the cusp of the new millennium.
Research In Motion (RIM), based in Waterloo, Ontario, developed the BlackBerry, the first successful mobile phone with built-in internet access and a thumb-operated keyboard.
It soon left millions of consumers, famously including Barack Obama, hopelessly hooked, earning it the nickname CrackBerry.
The revolutionary handset would pave the way for Apple’s iPhone, which ultimately cannibalised it and drove RIM from the market amid an insider trading probe against the Canadian executives.
– ‘Sci-fi culture’ –
The film presents RIM as a band of nerdy brothers — spectacularly gifted misfits who find themselves becoming the titans of a new age.
“The early Internet was mostly all forums talking about ‘Star Trek’,” Johnson told reporters in Berlin.
He said he wanted to explore how that world of fandom gave rise to some of the greatest scientific leaps of our lifetime.
“The people who are going to be real vanguards of technology are also going to be people who are very interested in nerdy sci-fi culture and I saw that as really fertile ground,” he said.
“They watch ‘Star Trek’ and they go, ‘oh man, it’d be cool if we had that’. We really are living in the world that we inherited from these young technologists and they built it based on the movies they were watching.”
Johnson and Jay Baruchel (“How to Train Your Dragon”) play the company’s bosses Doug and Mike, who cultivate a harmonious hive of creativity with movie nights and video game battles.
But when the time comes to take their new invention to the next level, they invite in Jim (Glenn Howerton of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).
A hard-charging Harvard graduate, Jim becomes the company’s new co-CEO who uses bullying and shady business tactics to get ahead.
While Mike begins as an idealist who wants his brainchild to foster a new global era of communication, Jim lures him into cutting corners and abusing staff to meet the relentless demands of the market.
Johnson, 37, whose previous projects included mainly satirical documentaries, said that clash of various forms of masculinity was familiar to most men of his generation.
“There is a culture of men’s locker rooms, of men’s sports, of men’s competition that I grew up in in the 90s,” he said.
“I knew what it felt like when I was with all my friends — you played ‘Warhammer’ and somebody of a higher status from a sports team or something would come in the room. I knew that feeling so well I could taste it.”
Johnson said he had established a “toxic male energy throughout the film” where “at any moment a fight could break out” — a corporate atmosphere he believes helped lead to BlackBerry’s downfall.
Howerton, 46, said his high-flying executive character embodied a pervasive fake-it-till-you-make-it bravado.
“If I sense an alpha male trying to do alpha male things in a room with me, it just comes off as very insecure,” he said. “It was a lot of fun to do as an actor.”
“BlackBerry” is one of 19 films vying for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded by jury president Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”) on February 25.