The dream team of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are back, returning in front of the camera following 2021’s The Last Duel, and they’re ready to go for the win with Air, the incredible true life story of how maverick talent scout turned shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro changed the entire game of Basketball with the invention of the Jordan One and the rise of Michael Jordan.
In 1984, Oregon-based Nike, Inc. is on the verge of bankruptcy due to low footwear sales. In response to this, chairman Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), along with co-founder Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), hires fellow salesman and basketball scouting expert Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) to come up with a new pitch for a shoeline based on current American sports.
Two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ben Affleck steps behind the lens as director for Air and winds back the clock to the early 1980s. We’re talking about the era of Ronald Regan, Wheaties Ads, Jane Fonda workouts and raw Americana and Affleck and his team do an amazing job of setting the stage for this true underdog story. Smack in the middle of all of this is upstart running shoe company Nike, which has recently gone public and is now facing bankruptcy due to falling sales and a faltering basketball division. But one innovative decision could turn their fortunes and it soon becomes a race against time to save the brand.
Affleck sets up Air as the ultimate underdog story and presents this as a true-life Rocky narrative. He’s got all the players and plays for this one: the maverick scout turned salesman, the concerned manager, the money-focused CEO, the sharp-mouthed agent, the eccentric designer, the search for innovation, the battle between risk and reward and the pursuit of excellence. And all of it shines through in the film. Air is a film that moves at a brisk pace and you feel the clock burning as this group of creative, yet desperate executives do everything in their power to win over a future star player and there’s an equal measure of excitement and white knuckle tension throughout. Affleck brings the era of the 1980s to life in Air and the presence of acclaimed cinematographer Robert Richardson only adds to the acclaim and detail of this picture.
Standing front and centre in the picture is Matt Damon as maverick basketball scout turned Nike salesman Sonny Vaccaro and he’s having a blast with an intriguing character and thoroughly enjoys the challenge set by his lifelong best friend turned director. Damon makes a turn from his normal Hollywood self and slips into the role of the out-of-shape, gambling-addicted sports scout who is facing massive pressures and is searching for something to turn the tables for a failing Nike basketball decision. With limited funds and few options, Sonny places all of his bets on soon-to-be rookie NBA player Michael Jordan. And it’s a choice no one backs. With few options, and a good dose of heart and courage, Damon makes his pitch as Sonny, and he brings true care and heart to this long-shot character and audiences will be readily impressed.
Playing opposite Damon is Affleck who alongside his directing duties takes on the role of Nike CEO Phil Knight. As the head of a newly appointed public company, Knight is facing some tough choices and his focus is squarely placed on the bottom line. It’s a radical change of character for Affleck to take on and his presentation of Knight’s inflated ego sees him sparring plenty with Damon’s Sonny when it comes to the creation of the Jordan One. Then facing down the pair of Damon and Affleck is Chris Messina as David Falk, Jordan’s agent whose prone to fits of raging outbursts and whose severe anger management issues and caustic wit lead to plenty of humour on screen.
Chris Tucker makes an incredible return to form as Nike executive Howard White, who acts as Sonny’s direct report and who has a lot on the line with this deal. It’s a complete turnaround part for Tucker and he steals absolutely every scene that he’s in. Then there’s Jason Bateman as Nike Marketing VP Rob Strasser who is less than pleased with Sonny’s plan, but who in the end became a reluctant ally and friend, and whose sarcastic wit leads to plenty of laughs. Spinning the magic of Air together is Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, the design genius whose quirky antics marks him out as a real oddball, but who has the wisdom and ability to dream up the Jordan One, the most iconic sports shoe of all time.
Bringing together the heart and emotion of Air is none other than Academy Award winner Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris. As a Triple Crown-winning actress, Davis has time and time again proven that she’s one of the all-time greats and her performance as Deloris Jordan gives Air its soul. Deeply concerned for her son’s well-being and future, she’s a tough, capable woman who can readily see through a slick salesman’s presentation and who will do everything in her power to see that her son gets a fair deal. Davis’ conviction and performance completely holds the attention of the audience and her role as Deloris Jordan is one of the best performances she’s ever given.
Air is an incredibly fun, enjoyable and uplifting cinematic watch and proves that with hard work and conviction the underdog can win in the end. It’s a story that shows us what is possible, using Nike’s slogan and creed along the way. An epic biopic of a legendary business deal with high stakes and million-dollar rewards, Air shows what can be achieved when you Just Do It!
Image: Prime Video