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AIR Review: Just Do It (And By Do It We Mean Watch Immediately)

Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in AIR

People who’ve never watched basketball a day in their lives, or any sporting event for that matter, still know the name Michael Jordan.

His status as the greatest player to ever step onto the court is unquestioned, but his legacy is just as defined by his impact on the athletics business as a whole. In particular, it has been his long-lasting partnership with Nike that has helped take the name Jordan from man to myth, to sports icon, and undisputed global brand.

So leave it to Hollywood powerhouse tandem Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to bring this incredible story to the screen in Affleck’s latest directorial effort AIR. Based on a pre-existing screenplay by Alex Convery, the duo added some tweaks to the script albeit uncredited. Nevertheless, with both men also acting as stars and producers, and along with a dynamite cast, the solidly entertaining film is a resounding swish … or SWOOSH if you prefer. 

The year is 1984, and sneaker and sportswear company Nike, Inc. is on the verge of bankruptcy due to being vastly outsold by the competition. With the company a distant third place to Adidas and Converse, who are dominating America’s immensely popular basketball marketplace, times are desperate. Talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) is tasked by Nike co-founder and CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) to find the sport’s next breakout star, so he has no choice but to take the proverbial full court shot. Convinced that that year’s #3 overall rookie pick in the NBA draft Michael Jordan is the right guy, Vaccaro implores Knight and Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) to build their next shoe campaign solely around him. The three men then proceed to gamble their careers, those of their coworkers, and the survival of the company itself on the player they believe will be the future of the sport. 

With AIR being his fifth project as a director, Affleck seems as comfortable and mature with his skills behind the camera as he’s ever been. And despite this being his first real foray away from the crime drama/thriller genre, the Oscar winner continues to prove that his 2012 Best Picture Argo was no fluke.

This real life sports story, however, doesn’t require any fancy camerawork beyond some great shots of the mountains and forests surrounding Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The film also features an awesome ‘80s-era soundtrack to complement the action, and the opening credits are backgrounded with an excellent montage of historical moments and pop culture milestones of the time. Regardless, Affleck is more than content to just let his fantastic cast work in front of the lens, and that starts with BFF Damon. His performance as Vaccaro being an out-of-shape, scrappy underdog taking one last chance at professional redemption is top notch. 

Adorned in tracksuits and with sports mantras and zen philosophies all over his office, Affleck’s portrayal of Knight is right out of the playbook (no pun intended) of the slightly eccentric millionaire/businessman. Bateman brings his usual smart-alecky, self-deprecating charm as Strasser, but with an extra hint of fear and worry of the potential Jordan mega-deal likely not coming to fruition. As Jordan’s agent David Falk, The Mindy Project’s Chris Messina brings some of the movie’s biggest laugh-out-loud moments. Channeling equal elements of fictional agents like Tom Cruise’s iconic Jerry Maguire and Entourage’s Ari Gold, his screaming phone tirades and outright preference of a solitary lifestyle are hysterical. Matthew Maher, a frequent Affleck collaborator, is also adorably quirky as shoe designer Peter Moore, credited with coming up with the iconic “Air Jordan” sneaker prototype. 

Besides these figures responsible for making this monumental deal happen, AIR also features the people closest to Michael Jordan himself. Chris Tucker brings a more subdued version of his trademark motormouth as Howard White, veteran Nike marketing executive and eventual longtime personal friend to the Jordan family. Marlon Wayans also does great work in a brief appearance as George Raveling, former college basketball player who coached Jordan on the gold medal-winning ’84 Olympic team.

But the real MVP of AIR’s cast might just be Viola Davis as the mother to the man himself, Deloris Jordan. The freshly-minted EGOT winner was personally requested by MJ to play the role, and it’s no big surprise why. As one of this generation’s greatest actresses, Davis brings her usual strong-willed dignity and grace to Michael’s mom, and makes it appear effortless in the process. Despite being in only a handful of scenes, don’t be shocked if she gets major Best Supporting Actress consideration come next awards season. 

With his latest film AIR, director Ben Affleck does an amazing job highlighting one of, if not the biggest landmark sports-related deals in the history of the business. The symbiotic relationship between Michael Jordan and Nike that began with one simple shoe endorsement is the stuff of legend. While yours truly won’t rate it quite up to that unattainable level, Affleck, Matt Damon and a stellar group of actors make AIR one of the most entertaining movies of 2023 so far. Should you check it out? Not to sound cliche, but…Just Do It.

AIR is playing in theaters nationwide, it will then stream on Amazon Prime Video.


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