We review Ben Affleck’s excellent Nike drama Air, starring Matt Damon.
PLOT: In 1984, Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) tries to recruit Michael Jordan as a Hail Mary to save the fledgling basketball shoes division.
REVIEW: Ben Affleck’s Air allows the director to play to all his strengths as a director and actor. Like Argo, it shines a light on an intriguing event from the eighties, but unlike that film, the stakes here aren’t necessarily life and death. But, if you think the idea of a movie about Michael Jordan being signed to Nike is minor, you’d be wrong, as this is a truly involving, entertaining depiction of everything that went into the landmark deal. And this deal forever changed the way athletes are compensated the world over.
Matt Damon is at his best as the plucky Vaccaro. A passionate devotee of the game, he’s trying to put Nike on the map amongst basketball players at a time when Nike, as crazy as it sounds, was unhip. Converse was the biggest sneaker, and Adidas was quickly gaining momentum as the “cool” brand thanks to having placement in hip-hop videos. The movie spends much time depicting the frustration of all involved, who know they have the superior product. In addition to Damon’s Vaccaro, there’s Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, who’s in charge of marketing and has his family’s future staked on the shoe’s success.
In a showy supporting role, there’s also Ben Affleck himself as Phil Knight, Nike’s colourful CEO, who wears a perm and shows up to the office wearing loud tracksuits. While he initially comes off as a bit of an eighties yuppie send-up, Knight is also depicted as savvy and someone who believes in his employees, particularly Vaccaro, whose gambles often don’t pay off.
The movie follows Damon’s affable Vaccaro as he puts his and the company’s future on the line in his aggressive pursuit of Jordan. Remember that no one had any inkling of what MJ would become at the time, so it was a significant gamble. While we all know the outcome, we don’t know what went into the deal, with much time spent on Vaccaro’s respectful relationship with Jordan’s business-savvy mother, Deloris (played but the great Viola Davis), who wants her son to get his rightful share of whatever profits are made off of his name.
Affleck does a good job evoking the eighties era in a way that this actually feels like a movie that legitimately could have been made in the decade. The film is shot in a way that evokes an older-type movie by Robert Richardson, and Affleck even got Tangerine Dream to work on the score. Notably, the pace is kept tight, with the film running a lean, disciplined 112 minutes, with no fat on the bone whatsoever.
Affleck really has made a movie that sits nicely on the shelf next to Argo, and it seems sure to be a crowd-pleaser, even if you’re not a sports fan. The acting is top shelf, not only from Damon and Affleck, who are well-served by writer Alex Convery’s dialogue but also the entire supporting cast. That includes Chris Messina as Jordan’s shark-like (but not cartoonish agent). In a single scene, Marlon Wayans as college coach George Raveling, delivers the movie’s standout monologue about why you should always listen to your intuition. Chris Tucker is also terrific in an atypical role as Howard White, the man in charge of player relations, who evokes a believable affability that hides his own desire to do right by the families he interacts with.
All in all, Air really is a terrific package, with Affleck having a ton of fun telling this story. It definitely has one of the best soundtracks of the year, with the needle drops running the gamut from Bruce Springsteen to Axel F. Affleck even repurposes Pino Donaggio’s main theme to Brian De Palma’s Body Double to complement the Tangerine Dream music. It’s a nice touch in a movie that’s full of them. While Air will bow on Prime Video within a few months, it’s definitely a movie that delivers on the big screen and a rare adult drama people should go out and support.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/air-review/