The legacy of basketball icon Michael Jordan is something that has been immortalised numerous times in documentaries, films and TV series. ‘Air’ decides to come at this subject from a fresh angle, telling the story of how Nike Air Jordan trainers came to be, and how this ground-breaking sports marketing partnership would change the world on numerous levels. ‘Air’ is a gripping movie with sole (I’m not apologising), that tells a human-interest story that is both fascinating, unbelievable and proves that sometimes, true-life fact is better than anything fiction can free-throw at us.
This is the story of sports brand Nike, and their pursuit of basketball endorsement talent for the 1984 season. With companies like Adidas and Converse already firmly with a foothold in the business, Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is worried that the company could go under. Along with company chairman Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), they are on the look out for three players to back with a combined $250,000 budget.
Knowing that the NBA’s top 3 players are out of reach, they look at their remaining, unremarkable options. Scout and salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) tries something bold – what if they pool their entire budget on just one player? The third pick of that year is Chicago Bulls rookie Michael Jordan, someone who hasn’t even set foot on an NBA court before, but who Sonny believes has a special greatness within him. So begins the biggest risk in sports marketing history… will the board back such an audacious idea and can Nike even convince the young talent to come to them? Perhaps building him a custom shoe that has never been made before is the key?
Biographical sports movies, and especially American ones, are particularly good at rousing their audiences, but even with that conceit, ‘Air’ still manages to be a cut above the norm. This is a fantastic story full of interesting characters and unbelievable circumstance. Its presentation is also concise and sticks to the key points, not wasting time with needless exposition or padding. It’s a lean, cleverly devised and expertly acted story that puts you directly in the boardroom with Michael Jordan and his family.
From its blistering start – which doesn’t hold back in paying homage to the 1980s biggest pop culture heroes like Madonna, Mr. T, Knight Rider, Hulk Hogan, Jane Fonda, MTV etc, ‘Air’ is all about the very best of the 80s. Ben Affleck’s directing style is perfect for this story – its energetic, to-the-point and visually sound. The film unashamedly wears its 80s colours proudly on its sleeve, and this was definitely needed to sell the vibe of the era. It never misses an opportunity to take us down memory lane with sharply cut, frenzied montages of 80s pop culture, and it has a truly wonderful soundtrack of its era that really propels the nostalgia vibes too.
The entire ensemble are a slam-dunk success, giving the film a real voice that easily captures the full attention of the viewer. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are a superb double-act and its refreshing to see them paired up onscreen again. Damon carries most of the film on his shoulders and does a remarkable job, as does Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris. Jason Bateman is always a joy to watch, Chris Messina is hilarious as loud-mouthed agent David Falk, Chris Tucker shines as Nike executive Howard White and Matthew Maher steals his scenes as oddball shoe designer Peter Moore.
‘Air’ is a feel-good film about the biggest corporate sneaker deal in history. That, in itself, is a remarkable achievement. But looking past the money, this is a very engrossing human interest story and a fascinating look at how something truly spectacular can happen when you think outside the box. It’s a great tale of ingenuity and risk, and a snapshot of a pivotal time in sports marketing promotion, the effects of which are still being felt today. I love a film with some stats at the end, and the stats ‘Air’ throws up onscreen are just staggering. Which all lends itself to a really wonderful and very entertaining 1hr 52mins. You don’t even need to know anything about basketball or trainers to enjoy this movie. Good stories are good stories, and when you have a wealth of great talent in front of and behind the camera like ‘Air’ does, then it’s a guaranteed great night out that perfectly captures a momentous moment in modern times.
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Matthew Maher, Julius Tennon, Damian Young Director: Ben Affleck Writer: Alex Convery Certificate: 15 Duration: 112 mins Released by: Warner Bros Release date: 5th April 2023