The comedic drama AIR reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between a then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division, which revolutionised the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand.
Editing: William Goldenberg
Music Supervisor: Andrea von Foerster
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans, Jay Mohr, Julius Tennon, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis
Directors: Ben Affleck
Writers: Alex Convery
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
He’s the greatest basketball player in the world. He’s also got one of the greatest shoe lines in the world. And his Mum helped get him to where he is. His name is Michael Jordan. His shoe, the Air Jordan.
Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) has his job cut out for him. He needs to find the next-best player in the NBA. But the basketball division at Nike is on the way out. They can’t compete with the popular brands on the market, Adidas and Converse. This also means Sonny’s job is on the line.
Sonny notices something special about a young player, Michael Jordan, home alone with his microwave meal, watching basketball tapes. He already knows Nike can’t afford Jordan. But there is something about Jordan that Sonny just can’t let go of.
Teaming up with the marketing team headed by Rob Strasse (Jason Bateman), Sonny sets out to win over Michael Jordan’s gatekeeper. Not his agent, but his Mum. It turns out she’s a walk in the park compared to the demands the Jordans make before they sign the contract.
That’s the basics of this film. And as fun as this drama can be, it’s very light and, at times, basic. But that’s what makes AIR an enjoyable film. There’s nothing complicated; it’s a story everyone knows for the most part, and it’s executed to be easy to view.
It comes from the dynamic duo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who don’t delve too deep into their characters but have fun. However, they capture something genuine and what seems to be honest about Jordan’s legacy.
It’s Matt Damon, who plays Sonny, that leads the cast. Damon had some great monologues across the film, but that’s about the extent of flexing his acting muscle. Though he does seem to embody his simple character. This is proven in a scene early into the film where he is schmoozing some future NBA players. Damon walks away, delivering his line, and while it was a moment most people wouldn’t have noticed, it was a point that clearly shows Damon isn’t in there, Sonny is.
It’s the same for Ben Affleck, who plays Nike CEO, Phil Knight. No muscle flexing, but with his big shoulder pads and running tights on, he seems to enjoy this character. With his slight neurotic tendencies and bare feet on the desk, Affleck had it easy to embody this character.
It is when we see the powerhouse performance of Viola Davis that we see some truly remarkable performances. The first scene Davis and Damon have together is in Jordan’s backyard of their family home. Davis has a line explaining how a parent keeps giving until there’s nothing left to give and then gives more. You can tell she’s exhausted, but that won’t stop her from being kind and showing her son immense love. The way Davis and Damon have this conversation where they play off each other with a lifetime of their character behind them makes for a mesmerising scene.
There are some curious choices when it comes to Ben Affleck directing the film. Overall the movie wasn’t quite sure where it wanted to fit in. Part documentary, part drama, part comedy. And while there is no hard rule saying it has to be one or the other, it flitted between each genre to the point it became distracting.
There was also the curious use of the camera shots. The scene between Damon and Marlon Wayans, who plays George Raveling, stood out the most. They two are at a diner having dinner together, and Wayans’s character is convincing Damon to go for Jordan. The camera takes a tight but weird angle looking down at the two with the background blurred out. It was a disjointed angle that wasn’t used again in the film. It was almost as if there was no room at the bar, and that was the only spot the camera would fit.
And finally, Affleck’s decision to never show the face of young Michael Jordan. At first, it felt like a joke. But as the film progressed, it worked as we got to see the actual footage and images of Jordan in flashes to the future. This also took away the focus on Jordan himself and put it all on the shoe and negotiations with the Jordan family.
The best part of this film, without a doubt, is the soundtrack. Anyone who was lucky enough to live through the 80s will appreciate the carefully chosen songs. They not only added to this period with perfection but also played into the scenes and built the moment. Certainly worthy of a mix tape in a red 993-generation Porsche Turbo S. Michael Jordan’s car of choice.
AIR is one of those biopics that doesn’t try to make something seem bigger than it was. It doesn’t try to glamorise parts of an individual’s life. It just delivers the story as we know it and has some fun along the way.