Beyond the commercialized backdrop of Ben Affleck’s directed film Air about the Air Jordan shoe lies an inspirational spirit. The dream is that one day, someone will identify what makes us unique. And at that moment, we will flourish beyond anything imaginable.
Not all of us will become Michael Jordan or own a billion-dollar industry like Nike. But Air has a lot on its mind about recognizing potential. And at the same time, providing feel-good entertainment.
The film centers on Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a salesman known for taking big swings in the clothing industry. The film begins with a focus on Nike’s endorsement budget in 1984 and the offices in Oregon that had a select amount of resources intended to endorse NBA players.
Sonny is ambitious but feels limited by the resources because his boss Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), wants to spread the budget to a few players. In other words, they are taking the safest course to possibly score a worthy player worth investing in.
But Sonny has a knack for understanding the game of basketball and sees the prospects in front of him are not worth the investment. Sitting around, he turns on a recording of Michael Jordan playing in a college game. The game shows Michael executing a play with unlikely confidence. A confidence only Sonny can understand.
Instead of dividing the budget among three rookie ball players, Sonny makes a pitch to his team and his boss, Phil, to bet the house on an NBA rookie with tremendous potential.
The sportsmanship of business
While this is not technically a traditional sports movie, it positions its story and characters like one. Alex Convery’s screenplay treats the Nike Basketball Division like a team out on the court, with Affleck’s Phil Knight as the team owner and Damon’s character Sonny as the head coach. Meanwhile, Howard White (Chris Tucker) and Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) are the men trying to help Vaccaro win the championship.
As the narrative flows, we see Vaccaro constantly trying to work through strategies that will help him win over Jordan. Whether by arguing with agents, discussing branding logistics, or simply weighing the cost of approaching Jordan’s parents (played by Viola Davis and Julius Tennon), the Nike team has to find a way to win the game. For this reason, Ben Affleck has crafted a film that shows the inspiring sportsmanship behind the business side of branding.
The performances are strong across the board, especially Matt Damon, who has an instantly iconic speech in this movie. Bateman is in typical form, and the film does not ask much from him, but Bateman is always tremendous in supporting or leading roles.
Chris Tucker is a pleasant surprise, making his first movie appearance of this decade. His performance as Howard White is upbeat, wholesome, and disarming. He is the man who will shake everyone’s hand at Church on a Sunday morning. Let’s hope we do not have to wait another decade for Tucker’s big-screen appearance.
Viola Davis is also great here as Deloris Jordan. Her role is small but mighty as an overprotective mother ensuring her son gets the absolute best.
The narrative moves at an athletic pace, thanks to editor (and frequent Ben Affleck collaborator) William Goldenberg. Recently, we saw films like Tetris have pacing issues, and that film also possessed numerous scenes involving business dealings. Here, Goldenberg makes the mundane flow effortlessly.
A comfort film about unleashing greatness
Director Ben Affleck has resurfaced with a comfort movie that is exceptionally made. It’s the type of movie one throws on the television when one needs something positive to watch in their life. The characters are all likable, the story is motivating, and the true story has a happy ending for everyone involved (except Adidas).
Air mostly suffers some of the same pitfalls as the 1996 Space Jam because it feels like a well-made inspiring commercial for Michael Jordan and Nike. Long stretches remind the audience how excellent Jordan is and how exceptional the shoe will become.
And this is not to say Jordan is not a tremendous talent (he is). But at times, the viewer might feel like a footlocker employee is trying to close the deal with them on some new kicks.
Even so, Air is a gratifying feel-good cinematic experience that will make audiences believe in something magical. Michael Jordan is simply an idea in the context of Air. The idea is that potential is not just on a basketball court; it’s inside a business where one’s job is to pitch a new brand or in the soul of a mother trying to give her baby boy the best life possible.
It does not matter the role or why the greatness behind the role exists; it’s still worth a fortune.
For more reviews, read our coverage of movies such as Cocaine Bear and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Air is now playing in theaters.