‘BlackBerry: The Limited Series’ Review: Not Much Added to a Rock-Solid Movie
The Big Picture
- BlackBerry: The Limited Series is a continuation of the original film and follows the rise and fall of the BlackBerry cellular device, with a focus on businessman Jim Balsillie.
- While the limited series format maintains the charm and strong performances of the original movie, it doesn’t offer anything new or enhance the overall story.
- The addition of new footage and the gap between episodes in the limited series structure detracts from the original film’s propulsive pacing and commentary on technological innovation.
BlackBerry is back, but this time in prestige TV form! One of the most pleasant surprises in the landscape of 2023 cinema, BlackBerry stood out with shocking ease from the pack of features chronicling real-world companies (see also: Tetris, Air). Telling the story of the creation of the BlackBerry mobile phone in the late 1990s, this motion picture began with a ramshackle but meticulous inventor Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) desperately needing cash to keep his team’s “PocketLink” project afloat. Enter Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton), a brash businessman whose abrasive personality helps get this device off the ground but also ensures that the BlackBerry empire can never endure long-term.
Writer/director Matt Johnson (who penned the script with Matthew Miller, which was adapted from the book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry) crafted something fascinating with BlackBerry. Rather than being a didactic retelling of historical events, there was a tangible precariousness to the proceedings even when things were going “well” for Lazaridis and company. He and his cohorts had made a deal with the devil and Johnson, never losing sight of that reality, leaned into that to lend dramatic urgency to every scene.
Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s adage about how riveting it is to watch characters be oblivious to a bomb under the table, so too was it mesmerizing to watch the BlackBerry characters navigate a technology enterprise that the viewer knows is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, streaming service AMC+ (sister company of BlackBerry’s U.S. distributor IFC Films) didn’t think BlackBerry was sufficient as just a movie. Now this project has emerged as an elongated “limited series” on the service, titled BlackBerry: The Limited Series. It’s a development that, thankfully, doesn’t irrevocably taint the original film, but it also doesn’t lend any new layers to BlackBerry as a piece of art.
- Release Date
- March 12, 2023
- Matt Johnson
- Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Cary Elwes
- 119 minutes
- Main Genre
- Biography, Comedy, Drama
What Is ‘Blackberry: The Limited Series’ About?
In case you missed it in its theatrical run, BlackBerry (and now BlackBerry: The Limited Series) chronicles the rise and fall of the BlackBerry cellular device. The brainchild of Mike Lazaridis, the entity only gets off the ground because of the contributions of businessman Jim Balsillie. A brash human being with no hair atop his head, Balsillie initially seems like a nightmare to work with, but he does get results. Eventually, the BlackBerry ascends to grand success, but it’s all temporary. From the get-go, there are incredible flaws and technological limitations to this device. Balsillie and his push for things to be “bigger bigger bigger” no matter the consequences will inevitably create more problems for this item than they’ll solve. BlackBerry, then, is a story of technology in free fall from the start, as well as a tragedy of how the very precise Lazaridis ends up selling his soul to stave off the inevitable.
It’s a compelling yarn rooted in the decidedly modern world that ominously reflects how, no matter how many innovations creep into our daily lives, classical human faults like hubris will always catch up to us. For the format of a limited-run TV show, BlackBerry has been largely kept intact, but just divided up into three different “episodes” and with some extra new scenes focusing on Balsillie. The big structural conceit here is that each of the three episodes takes place over one of the three time periods chronicled in the movie, so there’s a time jump between installments. Oh, and there’s now on-screen opening credit text playing out over scenes that, in their original form, were meant to exist without any external distractions for the viewer.
Does ‘BlackBerry: The Limited Series’ Offer Anything New Compared to the Movie?
Even in this strange, new format, BlackBerry still registers as something special. The creative dialogue of Matt Johnson and Matthew Miller (the former of whom also directs) still crackles and Jay Baruchel’s work as Lazaridis is still among the best leading man turns of 2023. Howerton’s work as Balsillie has become quite famous on the internet and rightfully so. He’s incredibly compelling translating that chaotic energy from his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia performances into something darker and laced with corporate power. As a limited-run TV show, the charms of BlackBerry aren’t severely diminished, but it’s a problem that they also aren’t enhanced whatsoever.
In total, the three installments of BlackBerry: The Limited Series run for 129 minutes, just eight minutes more than the original movie. A good chunk of that difference is made by the opening credits that kick off each episode, while most of the smattering of new footage is largely focused on previously unseen material concerning Balsillie. While it’s neat to see a touch more of Howerton’s gusto performance, none of it really adds anything to the final product. Worse, there’s a cynical veneer to adding in these segments. The internet went gaga over seeing Dennis from It’s Always Sunny bald and now promising even more of that performance can maybe get AMC+ (the home of BlackBerry: The Limited Series) some extra subscribers.
As a piece of art, BlackBerry is not really enhanced by the limited-series structure. On the contrary, providing a decided gap between the different time periods BlackBerry explores (which will be even more pronounced on linear TV, where the episodes will air on three different nights) slightly undercuts the proceedings. Part of what made BlackBerry fascinating was how it delivered various examinations of history one right after another, like machine gun rounds. This quick process allowed one to see how technology and the people who make it can change, often quite rapidly, but also how common elements like greed endure throughout the ages. Offering viewers a chance to experience a 24-hour gap between shifts from the ’90s to the 21st century, though, provides breathing room between the time jumps that undercuts the propulsive pacing of the original film. Now the subtle commentary within the structure of BlackBerry on the relentless practically overnight march of technological innovation has been thrown away.
If you end up at somebody else’s house watching BlackBerry: The Limited Series, know that certain key sequences are still as powerful as ever. The ending is still a thing of dialogue-free beauty, a perfect physical microcosm of everything people lose when they try to appease the demands of corporate America. But you could also experience that stirring conclusion in its original intended format: a two-hour motion picture that immerses you in uninterrupted storytelling. BlackBerry as a movie was one of the great cinematic surprises of 2023. BlackBerry: The Limited Series is an unfortunate reminder of just how cynical modern streaming programming is.
BlackBerry: The Limited Series will air in three parts on AMC on November 13, 14 and 15. All three episodes will be available on AMC+ on November 13.
Watch on AMC+