Air Movie Review
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Who knew a movie about a shoe could be so enthralling?! But that’s what happens when you bring together the greatest professional basketball player of all time, the most popular shoe company in history, and Ben Affleck.
Wait, seriously? Who the heck does Ben Affleck think he is being in the same sentence as Michael Jordan and Nike? Well, the guy who starred in arguably one of the worst films ever with his now wife Jennifer Lopez (Gigli) and currently stars in Dunkin’ Donuts commercials shines as the director of the best film of 2023 (thus far) in Air. For a guy who has had his share of bad movies in the past, he sure as hell knows how to pick a project with this film now serving as the fourth in a row to receive a score north of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, Air not only tops 2023 (for the moment), it also stands among the best sports films of all time.
The year is 1984 and while Nike leads the nation in running shoe sales, the recently public company is struggling to find its way into other sports, particularly basketball where they’re all but the laughing stock of the NBA. With Converse and Adidas owning the market, Nike is continually left to pick up the scraps, forced to look at lower-rated draftees like Melvin Turpin and Lancaster Gordon with a minimal budget. That is until Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) sets his mind on going after the GOAT and goes rogue by bypassing Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) to speak with Jordan’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis) – a big unwritten no, no in the sports world. What follows is the fascinating story of how one man’s vision and another man’s talent forever changed the way the sports world.
Unlike past beloved sports movies like Rocky, Rudy, and The Natural which focused on the athlete, Air is built around the behind-the-scenes events that occurred to help change endorsement deals forever and make MJ the beloved figure he is today. Jordan is rarely seen in the film outside of a few side glimpses and shots from behind. Nope, this story is squarely built around Vaccaro and the team at Nike that was ultimately responsible for signing the phenom.
Which brings us to the star-studded cast beyond Damon. In real life, Vaccaro likes to stake a claim for being the one to get Jordan’s signature on the dotted line, but he was surrounded and supported by a large cast of characters. Famed marketing guru Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) who is responsible for developing the brand that Nike is today and played both the role of close friend and colleague of Vaccaro to help reel in Jordan. Former college basketball standout and Nike Vice President, Howard White (an out-of-retirement and thoroughly enjoyable Chris Tucker). Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), who was responsible for designing the first Air Jordan shoe. And of course, the Shoe Dog himself, Phil Knight (Ben Affleck pulling double duty). In a small but pivotal role, Marlon Wayans stars as George Raveling, Jordan’s Olympic coach and who Jordan credits as the real reason why he signed with Nike.
The performances in Air may fly high until Oscars season – a rarity for a movie released in the spring. But with performances like Viola Davis who masterfully captures Deloris Jordan – a role that Michael Jordan himself asked for Davis to play – and Damon, who outside of putting on some weight and crafty makeup simply looks like a heavier Matt Damon with makeup, turns into Sonny Vaccaro before your eyes, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both nominated comes awards time. Messina’s take on the cocky yet first-rate sports agent is nothing less than spectacular and carries much of the comedy workload. Those three roles and the cast overall is truly something special.
Air (2023) is authentically and unapologetically 80’s, transporting viewers back to a time when the hair was worn high, jeans were acid-washed, kids stayed out until the lights came on, and NBA players actually played defense! And the music. Oh, the music. Sweet music. There was music everywhere. It’s a film that those who grew up admiring and emulating Michael Jordan will wax nostalgic about. It’s a film about the underdog. And it’s a film that will bring a smile to everyone who watches as the drama unfolds and the GOAT gets one step closer to changing his life, Nike the company, and the executives who risked everything to bring Jordan into the fold.