BlackBerry Movie vs True Story Review

written by Laura J.

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff (2015)

Blackberry directed by Matt Johnson (2023)

Book Review

This book is very well researched and overall, it is well written. My reason for not liking it more, comes down to there being a lot of corporate talk and a lot of tech talk which I had a hard time focusing on at times. Maybe this one could have been written in a way that would get the attention of someone who is not at all part of that world-but in my opinion it wasn’t.

I don’t want to hate on the book though because I did like it and overall, I am glad I read it.

Movie review

I saw this movie in theaters and loved it! By the time this episode is released, it will already be playing in far fewer theaters. The ones close to me only played it for a week and then kicked it out! But if it is still playing near you, I highly recommend it.

It is very riveting and engaging and the performances are amazing! My biggest complaint is the shaky camera work and the spy cam shots we would get. Like why are we filming this through an office window??? Film the scene inside the office where the actors are! I get he was going for a certain vibe by doing it that way, but I was not a fan. Also, the hair and makeup is pretty bad at times. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this. A good blend of drama with a lot of tense moments, with some comedy, as well as having a lot of integrity. Lawyers also prevented them from including anything totally inaccurate, so while there are some things we’ll get into that aren’t exactly true, it stays fairly close to the real story.

From here on out there will be spoilers for both book and movie! (and spoiler alert-apple changed everything)

Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie

In the movie, Mike Lazaridis and his partner Doug Fregin, from the company Research in Motion (RIM) approach Jim Balsillie with their idea for a phone called Pocketlink, wanting an investment. Jim is not really paying attention because he is trying to secure his spot with mergers going on with his own company. When RIM leaves, we see Balsillie pull a stunt in the meeting his company is having and it gets him fired. He then reaches out to RIM, offering to invest if they make him CEO.

Doug calls him a shark and tells Mike they shouldn’t partner with him. However, Mike knows they need him and they call and make him a new offer which he accepts.

In real life, Balsillie was working for a company and got along well with the main guy. The company is being taken over by someone else though, and the guy is talking to this new company on speaker and they don’t realize Balsillie is in the room. They tell him they want Jim fired because they don’t like him. His former boss feels bad because he had liked Jim, so he tells him to apply his severance to RIM, a promising company that the boss is aware of because Mike had approached him for money not long before.

In the book, they have some back in forth in the movie. But when Balsillie is truly interested, Mike says he wants to Balsillie to meet his wife first, because she is a great judge of character. After their double date, Mike’s wife tells him that Balsillie is a shark, Mike says yeah, I know, and she is like, well as long as you are aware of that you should partner with him.

As the movie shows, RIM was in massive debt and so Balsillie’s 120k investment didn’t really make a difference. But once he is working for them, he gets things moving and pushes them to get things done. In the movie epically, RIM was just messing around and not working hard enough to succeed.

We see in the book as well as the movie, how they each were a vital part of the success of BlackBerry. Nothing would have happened had Balsillie not been there, but of course without Mike they wouldn’t have the idea for the phone either.

The first scene where they pitch the future Blackberry to Verizon was a great scene that showed Mike’s skill but we also often see how Jim was great at booking the meeting, selling the phone, and promoting it. Prior to the meeting they are stressed because they forgot the protoype in the taxi, but Mike is able to get it. This really did happen in the true story!

Jim

Jim in the movie is seen as very aggressive, and while he definitely was, he could also be very likeable. That is a key trait of a great salesman is being likeable right. Balsillie himself said of his portrayal in the movie, I’m aggressive. I’m competitive. I’m ambitious. I own that,” said Balsillie, but the film exaggerates it to the point of satire, he noted. “When I first saw it, I was confused for about five minutes. And then I thought, ‘OK, we’re being roasted here.’ … They’re taking an element of truth, who I am, and they’re playing with it.”

There was a story in the book though where they were in a pitch meeting and Balsillie is asked a question and there is a pause. A guy who works for RIM is there, and in the pause he pipes up, answering the question. Jim turns to the guy and in the book we read, “”Eric’, he said, growing cold with fury. ‘Don’t you ever, ever, ever, ever‘-Klimstra’s stomach twisted with each ‘ever’-“interrupt me in a meeting again.’ After an awkward silence, Balsillie continues with the presentation.” So it isn’t like the movie totally fabricated Balsillie’s harsh personality.

Doug Fregin

Probably the biggest change from movie to real life is the character of Doug-played by the director of the movie.

He is a much bigger character in the movie and has this distinct style of tank tops, movie shirts, and a sweat band which he wears throughout the movie. He also stands up for Mike and will speak on his behalf with Balsillie because Mike is a very meek, quiet guy. Doug is also a goof though and slacks off a lot it seems.

None of this is in the book. Doug was a real person, but he wasn’t at all the way the movie shows. There also was no talk of the movie nights at RIM.

And while talking about fictionalized people, Purdy is not mentioned in the book at all. He is the big guy Jim hires to whip the engineers into shape. He is a great character, but yeah, if he is a real person, he isn’t anyone that was talked about.

The BlackBerry

In real life and in the movie, the name that was being used for the future Blackberry was Pocketlink. “Other choices included EasyMail and MegaMail.2 It was clear now to marketing…that these names didn’t work; “mega”and “mail” were anxiety triggers. What RIM needed was a name that lowered workers’ blood pressure.” In the book we learn they brainstormed some words that make people feel happy and stress free. Some ideas were summer and strawberry, and strawberry became blackberry. Research has shown that people like the double BB in words and subconsciously associate the double B with efficiency.

We don’t get any of this in the movie. It is kind of implied that they came up with Blackberry because Mike had a berry stain on his shirt when they were presenting the phone.

We see that Oprah lists the Blackberry on her favorite things, it is referenced in multiple TV shows, and in general, it takes over the world. Something we see in the book is that when iPhones arrived the BlackBerry was still doing well in other countries where people couldn’t afford an iPhone.

I remember Blackberries and I know my brother had one, but I was in middle school and high school at the time, and I couldn’t even afford my own phone anyway. But this book made me realize what a huge impact they had.

Palm Pilot

I do remember Palm Pilot as well, and I had some cheap knock off kind. But they were the big thing before Blackberries.

In the movie and in real life, the guy at Palm Pilot wanted to merge with Blackberry and threatens a hostile takeover if they don’t agree. In both, Jim leads him a long acting like it will happen, meanwhile they are finding ways to drive up sales and to get their stock to increase so the guy will no longer be able to afford to buy them.

Verizon though can only have so many Blackberries on their network, so in order to sell more and keep them working, they hire new engineers to figure it out. The scene when Jim goes to meet with Verizon, who is upset about the Blackberry outages, he tells them that their engineers rewired their towers and they can now have like quadruple the amount if phones. Their stock goes up 400%, and Palm Pilot cannot longer afford to buy them.

The iPhone

When Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone in 2007, that changed everything. I wish I remembered that time for vividly because it just literally changed the world. But honestly, I remember my dad wanting one because he liked the apple brand, but I don’t remember realizing how revolutionary it was.

The announcement of the iPhone was of course huge news for phone companies. Prior to the announcement, Blackberry was getting ready to pitch their newest phone which had a track pad. In the movie, Jim was off trying to buy a hockey team, and so Mike went with Doug to the meeting with Verizon to show the new phone. In the meeting, the guy in charge says how he is disappointed because he had been hoping they would be shown something that would rival the iPhone. After having a bit of a meltdown over Blackberries and iPhones, Mike then lies and says they are working on a prototype that will be all glass screen like an iPhone.

In real life, part way through the pitch with the trackpad phone, Mike sees he is losing them and he pivots to talk of the Storm which was a Blackberry with the glass screen. So, in real life they had already been working on it and it was a bit less dramatic of a scene.

NHL

I want to circle back around to Jim trying to buy a hockey team. In the movie, he is doing this while also dealing with the iPhone threat and in general seems to be putting his company on the backburner and is focusing on the hockey. In real life, he did try to buy an American league which he would then move to Canada, but it wasn’t while other things were going on. I mean, other things were always going on, but the movie of course switches the timelines around so that everything was all literally happening at the same time.

But in both, the NHL votes against him and he isn’t able to buy a team. In the movie they tell him bragging to the Palm Pilot guy about buying the team is why, but in real life it was just that he was an abrasive guy and they didn’t want to be involved with him.

SEC

In both, when Blackberry had been in a hiring frenzy, they gave new employees stock options which they backdated, making them increase in value. In the movie, Jim is trying to get guys from Google and other companies to work for them to figure out the Verizon tower thing, and so he does this stock option thing to get them to work for them. In the movie we see that they knew it was shady but did it anyway and Mike was completely unaware that it was happening.

In real life, I think Mike knew to some degree, but he just didn’t pay it any attention because he was busy with the engineering side of things. In the movie the Security and Exchange Commission’s shows up and they ransack the place and interrogate Mike while Jim is at the NHL and then he goes to see AT&T. (By the way, there’s a great moment when Jim realizes that the new thing will be companies selling data plans, because prior to that it was all about selling minutes.) When he returns, Mike turns him in to the SEC. He made a deal with them that would get him out of it since he had no idea, and it all got put on Balsillie instead.

In real life, Mike did go behind Jim’s back to cut a deal but they still both got in trouble and had to pay a lot of money. The movie makes it seem like this is what makes Jim step down as CEO, but in real life they both remain CEO’s and they resign at the same time in 2012.

Lawsuit before the SEC

What the movie doesn’t show is that prior to the stock fraud investigation, Blackberry was sued for a patent dispute by another company that said they came up with the email/phone idea. They had originally sued in 2001 which led to, “RIM suffered a humiliating court defeat in 2002, multiple appeals failed, and settlement talks foundered. Now a Virginian judge was threatening to take the company to the brink by enforcing an injunction to bar BlackBerry service in the US.” In 2006, RIM had to pay 612 million to the guy who had the patent. The financial cost was a blow, but what was an even bigger blow was the hit they took to their confidence and the constant stress the lawsuit put them under.

The movie doesn’t show any of this.

Movie ending

The movie ends with Mike caving in and agreeing to have the Storm phones be made in China. He had taken pride in creating a product he didn’t cut corners with. But the last scene in the movie we see him opening the Storm’s and they have this white noise buzz that comes from products that are poorly made. He goes through them one by one, fixing the buzz.

We then see Balsillie out fishing and it says how he didn’t have to go to jail for the tax fraud. The movie makes it seem like he is this sleaze bag who got away with some scam. But they did have to pay a lot of money plus as said, the stress of it all and the humiliation. So it isn’t like the real Balsille was totally unscahes by everything. Of course, he and Mike retired filthy rich dispute payments they had to make. But in the end, they still lost Blackberry. It went from taking up 45% of the phone market, to zero.

This story made me realize how amazing it is when a company can adapt and change as the world changes. So often some huge product comes along and changes the game, but then if they can’t keep up when the next thing comes along, then they fall by the wayside and is just something that is remembered but no longer used.

Some other changes

I didn’t get into BBM, which was the Blackberry messaging service that was between Blackberries, and unlike texting it didn’t cost anything. This was of course a huge thing and it’s something the book gets into and the movie shows.

We also have the thing with the motems RIM was making for US Robotics at the start of the movie, when Balsillie comes on board. This back and forth with RIM and US Robotics went on for a while. Eventually, RIM sells the motems to Korean tech companies instead and they go forward being weary of these big tech companies.

Book vs Movie

When it comes to which I like better, even though the movie does take some liberties, I have to say the movie wins. I’m glad I read the book and knew the true story going in it, but the movie was just so entertaining, so tense, funny, riveting, and had so many amazing scenes!