Matt Johnson’s Unique Brand of Filmmaking Seemingly Realises Its Full Potential with Blackberry

Matt Johnson has now been working in the film industry for ten years, with his debut being the little-known but critically recognised The Dirties (which the Kevin Smith helped distribute) making a statement as the writer, director and actor blends comedy, drama, and serious subject matter in a mockumentary style that keeps the viewers guessing right up until the end. I wasn’t even quite sure what kind of movie I was watching until its shocking conclusion, and I only grew to appreciate Johnson’s approach to the material even more over time, even if I never shook the feeling that there was still room for improvement.

This naturally led me to Johnson’s second feature film, 2016’s Operation Avalanche, which carried much of the DNA seen in The Dirties, offering another mockumentary-style film that covers two CIA agents who uncover a conspiracy to fake the Apollo 11 moon landing. While entertaining, Operation Avalanche lacked the same punch as The Dirties, yet it nonetheless proved that Matt Johnson possesses a unique filmmaking touch that held much promise, he just lacked seasoned cohesion, and I eagerly awaited his next feature film.

That wait would be longer than anticipated, as he focused instead on a TV series titled Nirvana the Band the Show, which I admittedly have not seen, but I do know that it served as another playground for Johnson to hone his skills and master the style he had been developing for years.

And now, it seems to have paid off.

While Nirvana the Band the Show concluded in 2018 and not much had been heard from Johnson since then, he suddenly cropped up on the film circuit screening his newest feature, Blackberry, which is based on the rise and fall of the titular mobile phone, garnering strong early reactions from critics following its premiere at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival. The praise only continued from there, with Blackberry sitting on a critical approval rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 147 reviews as of writing this piece, the site’s consensus reading: “With intelligence as sharp as its humor, BlackBerry takes a terrifically entertaining look at the rise and fall of a generation-defining gadget.” 

Even just by viewing the trailer, Johnson’s trademark style is still present, yet he appears to take more of a fly-on-the-wall approach to the material as his direction is more reminiscent of cinema verité than mockumentary, which coalesces with what seems to be the strongest writing of Johnson’s career bar none. This is all without mentioning an immense Canadian cast that includes Johnson, Jay Baurchel, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside and Mark Critch (of This Hour has 22 Minutes fame). The film’s villain, former Blackberry CEO Jim Balsillie, is played by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia alum Glenn Howerton, which, interestingly, is the first time I have ever encountered an American actor playing a Canadian, instead of the other way around.

While I will always argue that film is subjective, there is a near-unanimous consensus that Matt Johnson has finally managed to put it all together, using his unique perspective to knock it out of the park like fans had always hoped he would, and I for one cannot wait to see Blackberry, which released in Canada on May 12th.

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