I’m not sure how Ben Affleck does it – he takes these stories which are based on real life scenarios like “Argo”, and now here again with “AIR”, and makes them magical. Even though we know the end line, somehow once again, he was able to put his finger on just the right pulse in how to tell this story with excitement and great character work, to keep us thoroughly engaged and immersed in the story for every single minute of the film. Or maybe he just has good luck with films that start with the letter “A”. Which ever it is I hope he never stops as ‘Air’ brings on another one of these fantastic real life stories with this one taking on Michael Jordan’s ‘Air Jordan’ journey.
Air – is first and foremost, a sports drama that brings us back to the 1980’s and recounts the events that saw Nike, then just a scrappy upstart in the major sneakers – sports shoe market, make a huge historical stride in the world of what we now know as one of the most lucrative markets on the planet, the basketball shoe market. It was a huge gamble at the time, and one that would see them put everything on the line, to gain on rivals Converse and Adidas. And thanks to a risky, all-or-nothing pursuit of up-and-coming college basketball – going NBA star Michael Jordan (Damian Delano Young), history is made. But it’s all in the story-telling, and boy, is there some great interwoven story-telling happening here.
Matt Damon is front and centre as Sonny Vaccaro, an Nike representative in the much-lacking basketball division at Nike with a brilliant eye for new talent, who decides to take matters into his own hands and approach the Jordan family directly at their home. But he will have to woo Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis), who plays this role with a calmness and authority that denotes how in the South, the mother is the matriarch and her son’s biggest decision in life, will probably be very influenced by her. Rumour has it that this was Michael Jordan’s only special request for that film, that Queen Viola Davis play his mother.
And although the outcome is already known, that doesn’t stop “Air” from being an intriguing story and ultimately, an uplifting experience from beginning to end. There is something that Affleck, as a director, has his finger on with these kind of stories, and that is the element of a suspense like, edge of your seat feeling, that while you know the outcome, it’s yet still instilled in the film and hence entices the audience throughout.
And yes, you can say the film is sure to just be a crowd-pleaser as it’s about one of the greatest basketball players of all time and it’s a given, but that’s not always the case. As someone who has never probably watched an entire NBA game from start to finish, the film possesses great energy with punchy, charismatic dialogue, and that dynamic direction from Affleck pays off. but what wraps this one up with a bow and makes it stand out here as well, are the performances. The ensemble cast do an ample job of making us care about Nike’s plight and their unorthodox plan to sign basketball’s future star – and of course, there’s plenty of humour throughout, and much of it is thanks to the larger-than-life performances. So let’s delve in and talk a bit about said performances.
With Matt Damon pulling our lead role here, he is doing what he does best, playing a hero that is not flawless, more realistic, and constantly knows he is a human being. Sure we have seen this kind of work from Damon before, but it’s been a while since he’s been this good, looking so relaxed as he probably pulls out one of the best performances of his career, and definitely the best in some years. Ben Affleck’s does a bit of double duty giving himself a plumb supporting role as Phil Knight, Nike’s creator and CEO. He is funny, sarcastic and realistic stealing a few scenes. One thing can be said here as well, Affleck completely knows how to cast himself. Throwing in Jason Bateman‘s comedic touch as Rob Strasser, is superb. No one plays the ordinary company man better and this maybe the best example how to use Jason Bateman in a movie. Chris Tucker may not have a big role in this movie, but every scene he is in, you’ll feel his magic. It’s like he was given a creative zone where he could do some “Chris Tucker” stuff without ruining the reality of the movie. Chris Messina as Jordan’s sport agent David Falk gives big “Arliss” vibes and perfectly so, as it’s a perfect portrayl of exactly what a sports agent does. His rants are profound and so full of humour. And lastly, you would be remiss not to mention Matthew Maher as Nike shoe designer extraordinaire Peter Moore, who gives the understated performance of his career – while having a almost perfect scene where he ‘names’ the Air Jordan.
To sum it up, “Air” is a sports movie without being a “sports” movie. it’s an emotional journey about chances of life & belief in greatness. With a bangin’ soundtrack that embodies the movie almost as a character, make this the feel good film of the year. Ben Affleck, you’ve done it again.
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Review Screening: Thursday, March 30, 2023 ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR
“AIR” FROM AMAZON STUDIOS IS OUT IN THEATER WEDNESDAY, APRIL 5, 2023