Air, the new film from Ben Affleck, is a slam dunk. The movie chronicles the origins of the Air Jordan sports shoe by Nike in 1984. Affleck himself scores a triple double as a producer, director, and actor.
A basketball film that’s not really about basketball might sound like a difficult proposition. Yet other films have tackled sports with success while not being about said sport per se.
Consider Moneyball, which was really about SABRmetrics as opposed to baseball. Or Jerry McQuire, a film where the Oscar winning supporting player was a football player but the film is really a romcom revolving around a sports agent.
Air’s central character, Sonny Vaccaro (played as an aging, out of shape shoe salesman by Matt Damon) has spent his life charting basketball players from their high school careers to the pros. He’s willing to bet his VP job to prove that recent draft pick Michael Jordan should be the next spokesperson for Nike.
His boss Phil Knight (Affleck expertly channeling authority vibes) thinks the company budget of a quarter-million would be better spent divided up between three lesser but capable rookie athletes.
“He’ll be playing pro for the first time in his life” argues Knight.
“That is literally the definition of a rookie” counters Vaccaro.
Affleck the director begins Air with a full-court press that encompasses a brief history of 1984 as seen through newsreel and commercial footage. The needle drops throughout are succinct and many and even include Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” theme from Beverly Hills Cop.
Hard to believe but in the mid-80s Nike was not the top sports shoe. That status belonged to Converse and Adidas.
Affleck (and Damon) won Oscars for penning Good Will Hunting. Affleck can’t get a break as a director though. When he won his second gold statue for Argo it was as producer; he wasn’t even nominated as director for that 2012 film. Air could possibly be the film that changes the perception of Affleck as the consummate director.
There’s not a false note in the script by Alex Convery (his first produced screenplay). Affleck knows the exact moment, the correct transition to end every scene.
Literally every supporting character is given a chance to shine. Their reactions and dialogue accurately define their motivations. This goes for Vaccaro’s fellow Nike VP buddies like cynical Jason Bateman who’s seen it all before and Chris Tucker who himself had his pro career wrecked after a game injury.
Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother steals her scenes with a calm but decidedly commanding presence. Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) rightfully plays each scene like he’s angry he’s not the star of the movie. Air has a pronounced momentum that propels the viewer from scene to scene. Like the title itself the film lifts the audience with an almost effervescent feeling that makes the story glide.