Air Review

The corporate intrigue in the muted boardrooms of Ben Affleck’s Air unfolds in Beaverton, Oregon. That’s the headquarters of Nike as a select few proceeded to break the dam of sports marketing and fit it to what it is today. It happened during the loud (fashion and otherwise) decade of the 1980s as a 3rd pick rookie out of North Carolina sought a shoe deal.

Michael Jordan was that draftee in 1984 and his sneaker endorsement selection is assumed to be Adidas (Converse is the other market leader at the time). Nike, while pacing first in the market for running shoes, is third in hoops apparel. Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is the marketing exec who sees the future in MJ and shoots for a deal that his colleagues have understandable skepticism about. They include CEO Phil Knight (Affleck), who ironically spends many a conversation sans footwear, VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Howard White (Chris Tucker), who’s still with the company today. There’s also the matter of convincing the Jordan family and mom Deloris (Viola Davis) is a fierce yet fair negotiator. Sonny’s deliberations with Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) are far more profane and a frequent highlight.

Of course we all know how this turns out whether you’ve laced up Air Jordans or not. Yet the story behind the shoe, complete with frequent needle drops from classic music of the era, is worth putting on. Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery provide a sturdy structure for this goodwill tale of the hunt for Jordan’s contract signature.

The script’s most surprising decision is to sideline #23 himself. There is no actor cast as Jordan and he is seen only from behind or in archival footage. It turns out to be a wise play. For starters, he may simply be too iconic and someone playing him might’ve been a distraction. Most importantly, Air is about the eventual business of MJ and not the man himself. There’s a ten-part ESPN Films documentary, with its subject seemingly in control of that material, that still does an impressive job covering him. Keeping Jordan at arms length and as an enigma makes sense in the confines of the film’s aims.

The actors provide worthy assists. Standouts including Bateman (he’s got a great scene where he explains why he doesn’t want to lose his job if negotiations go south), Messina, and of course Davis. Close buddies Damon and Affleck, as we witnessed a quarter century ago, continue to have a snappy chemistry.

Air rises above being a trivial pursuit of a corporation fattening its bottom line. Yes, one could argue that’s the eventual outcome, but this deal also gave future athletes more skin in the game. It’s all packaged in a winning formula featuring the aura of the ultimate competitor.

***1/2 (out of four)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: