A couple of months ago, Amazon Studios released Air, which told the story of how Nike convinced Michael Jordan to sign a shoe contract with them. The film was directed by Oscar-winner Ben Affleck, who also played Phil Knight, the head of Nike. The budget was reported at around $90 million dollars, with Oscar-winner Matt Damon in the leading role, and Oscar-winner Viola Davis as Jordan's mother.
At about the same time, a Canadian based-on-true-life film, BlackBerry, was released. It told of the rise and fall of the company that created the BlackBerry. The film was directed by Matt Johnson (The Dirties), who also played the co-founder of the company that gave us the BlackBerry. The budget was reported at around $5 million dollars, and besides Johnson, starred Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton.
There's probably no point to this, but it strikes me as significant that an American based-on-fact film got a decent-sized budget and some Oscar-winning stars, while a Canadian based-on-fact film got a tiny budget and some strong but lesser-known actors. Granted, Michael Jordan has a huge presence in popular culture to this day, while no one remembers the BlackBerry. But there are ways in which Matt Johnson has some freedom that perhaps Ben Affleck did not, precisely because he wasn't working with $90 million of Amazon's money.
One thing I noted at the time about Air is that while Jordan gets our attention, he's largely absent from the film, which is about a company that makes shoes. Meanwhile, most of us likely couldn't tell you the names of the key players in the story of BlackBerry, but neither is there a hole in the film because Michael Jordan was unavailable.
Baruchel and Howerton are excellent, although Baruchel's hair is odd in ways I'm not sure exactly matches the hair of the person he is playing. After seeing this and The Dirties, I can say that for me a little of Matt Johnson's acting goes a long way, and he's pretty irritating here. But that irritation is appropriate ... while Baruchel plays Mike Lazaridis, who came up with the BlackBerry, and Howerton plays Jim Balsillie, the high-powered executive who makes the company thrive, Johnson plays the guy who was with his friend Mike from the beginning, and sees that Balsillie is taking his friend in an unforeseen direction.
BlackBerry moves right along ... it's an engrossing tale, and probably close enough to the truth to pass. In its own way, it's as good a film as Air, despite (or because of) the resources available to the film makers.