- Great performances
- Inspiring tone
- Great soundtrack
- More than usual "dad sports movie"
- Direction is choppy at times
“Air” is an entertaining fact-based film that elevates past the status of “dad sports movie” with fine performances and a great pace.
From award-winning director Ben Affleck, AIR reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between a then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division which revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This moving story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent, and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.
When you think of how the legendary Jordan shoe came to be, what sounds more intriguing to you – the story of how Jordan came to Nike, or how Nike came to Jordan? Depending on your answer, you may have some prejudice as to whether or not Ben Affleck’s newest film “Air” will be entertaining to you or not. However, there is a kind of movie magic going on with “Air” – where the story of how a failing Nike chose to shoot for the stars and pursue the yet-to-be-iconic Michael Jordan. This is a “behind the scenes” type-of-film that would probably, at first light, be more interesting as an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary rather than a fact-based film but lo and behold, this interesting fast-paced story carries some surprises. “Air” follows Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a Nike basketball talent scout that is tasked to come up with a new shoeline pitch for the struggling company. As he pitches up-and-coming superstar Michael Jordan as the new face of Nike, everyone from CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) to his coworker Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) think it’s a pipe dream (primarily because the more successful Adidas is already courting Jordan). Vaccaro chooses to shoot for the stars anyway and reaches out to Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis) and from there, the crazy ride begins.
There is a multitude of great talent within this cast. Matt Damon is the perfect pitch of charming and relatable as the overachieving Nike wunderkind Vaccaro. He makes this character someone you want to root for as he hops over obstacle after obstacle, coming one step closer to courting the man, myth and legend himself. Ben Affleck has a nice blend of calmness and semi-faux depth as Phil Knight. His relationship with Vaccaro leads to some humorous moments where Knight gives random philosophical quotes to Vaccaro’s dead ears as he headhunts the deal of a century. Their scenes remind the audience of how much we missed seeing Affleck and Damon share the screen together (“The Last Duel” notwithstanding). Jason Bateman also gives a welcome presence to Rob Strasser, chewing up good scenery with Damon while also staying in pocket within his supporting role. Chris Messina is hilarious as profane, hot-headed David Falk, Michael Jordan’s lawyer who has a strong “frienemy” relationship with Vaccaro. Chris Tucker also makes the way for some chuckles as Howard White, another figure implemental in the Jordan deal. Matthew Maher is the final actor that packs on the laughs as Peter Moore, the idiosyncratic creator of the Jordan shoe blueprint itself. That finally brings us to Viola Davis who plays Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan. As expected (but never not enchanting), Davis brings a level of grace and integrity to the role that not many other actors could bring to such an integral part of the legendary Jordan deal. Her scenes with Damon in particular are pieces of some damn fine acting that elevate this film past being the usual “dad sports movie”.
For all of the great cast it has in its roster, “Air” can suffer a bit from slight, choppy direction. While Alex Convery’s script is aptly paced and leaves much room for great character development, Affleck’s direction can be polarizing in some scenes. A place to note is a moment between Damon’s Vaccaro and Marlon Wayans, who has a terrific scene-chewing presence as Vaccaro’s buddy and former coach George Raveling. As Raveling is telling Vaccaro a poignant story of how he gained a copy of one of the greatest speeches ever written, there is a questionable editing flow within this scene and strange scene angels that disrupt what is otherwise a great monologue by against-type Wayans. While this is just one scene, it can’t be ignored how such a polarizingly edited scene disrupts the flow of the film. Other than that hiccup, Affleck competently directs an entertaining and inspirational story of shooting for the stars, oxygen levels be damned. It’s also worthy to note that Jordan himself, while he is in the film, isn’t really a notable character in the film. He’s seen in shadowy angles, filmed from the back and from the side but never directly head-on, the legend is treated aptly as such – a legend. It’s the figures that are responsible for creating the legend with whom the film carries its spotlight on – and for all the better. Accompanying Affleck’s direction is also a great soundtrack of classic tunes from the 80s that never feel overpowering (maybe a bit on the nose at times) and almost always hit at the right pitch.
“Air” is an entertaining fact-based film that shouldn’t work but does. It’s one of those rare instances where a great cast is just enough to bring a story that otherwise people wouldn’t care about to entertaining life. Great performances, a nice pace, solid direction and a great soundtrack keep this film engaging throughout. Capping it off with an emotional monologue towards its finale, “Air” is a feel-good film about achieving the impossible and being a legend even when you stand in the shadow of one.