Ben Affleck’s new film “Air” jumps high from one spot to another for our amusement and entertainment, and I am happy to report to you here that it succeeds magnificently. Inspired by a real-life story about how one notable sportswear company came to have its biggest breakthrough moment via a certain promising rookie basketball player, the movie has lots of fun with how its main characters work together for their common goal step by step, and the result is one of more entertaining movies of this year.
Mainly set in 1984, the movie quickly establishes the rather dismal status of Nike during that time. Having been struggling behind two other major sportswear companies, Adidas and Converse, for years, the company surely needs something big enough to boost its status, and that is why Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a basketball talent scout hired by Nike, is looking for any promising rookie player to sign up for the company. From the beginning, the basketball division of the company is not so big besides not having much budget, but Vaccaro believes that he will eventually find the right one for the company, and then he begins to notice the possible right one on one day.
That rookie player in question is named, surprise, Michael Jordan, and Vaccaro instinctively senses the considerable potential of greatness as watching how Jordan led his college team to an unexpected win at the last moment. All he will have to do next is persuading Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), the head of the marketing division in Nike, and their CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), but both Strasser and Knight are understandably reluctant for good reasons. While they cannot give Vaccaro a lot for luring Jordan, they are also against recruiting only Jordan instead of three rookie players as planned.
Besides, Jordan has already been approached by both Converse and Adidas, both of which have each own nice offer for him. Knowing well how much Nike is disadvantaged compared to its two main competitors, Vaccaro must find a way to approach and then convince Jordan, and he gets an idea from Howard White (Chris Tucker), a close colleague of his who was also once a promising basketball rookie player before getting seriously injured. White told him that the best way for approaching to African American athletes is talking with their mothers, so Vaccaro decides to break the rules a bit. Instead of talking to Jordan’s aggressive agent David Falk (Chris Messina), he goes straight to Jordan’s family home in North Carolina, and then he comes to have a little private talk with Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis), who turns out to be a lot shrewder than Vaccaro expected. Like him, she also believes a lot in her son’s potential for greatness, but she may consider accepting the offer from Nike only if Nike looks like a more ideal business partner for her son than Converse or Adidas.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Vaccaro eventually gets the full support from not only Strasser and Knight but also a nerdy shoe designer named Peter Moore (Matthew Maher, a veteran character actor who should need to be known more considering how he steals every moment of his scenes), but the movie keeps us engaged and excited as these professional figures try to do their best for persuading Jordan and his parents to sign up for them. Because their budget is still limited even though they bet all on Jordan, so they are really going to need a new basketball shoe model to impress Jordan and his parents, and that eventually leads to the creation of that famous basketball shoe which has always been associated with Jordan.
While the screenplay by Alex Convery often delights us with a number of sharply written scenes shining with wit and humor, Affleck and his crew members including cinematographer Robert Richardson and editor William Goldenberg did a fantastic job of filling the screen with enough narrative momentum as well as an ample amount of vivid period atmosphere. Right from the opening scene consisting of various archival footage clips from the 1980s, the movie is brimming with boisterous mood, and that is further accentuated by the soundtrack packed with numerous stuffs from the 1980s (I was particularly amused by when Pino Donaggio’s score for Brian De Palma’s “Body Double” (1984) is briefly used later in the film).
Above all, the movie is supported by its fabulous ensemble led by Matt Damon, who gives one of his best performances here in this film. Ably balancing his performance well between comedy and drama, Damon’s seemingly earnest performance becomes more compelling along the story, and Affleck, who has been Damon’s best friend since they grew up together in Boston, Massachusetts, gives Damon a big moment to shine when Vaccaro gives an impromptu personal speech in the middle of a certain key scene, which is powerfully intercut with the archival footage clips of real Jordan.
By the way, Jordan is not shown much on the screen as the movie is more about the figures pushing and pulling each other over Jordan, and Affleck assembles a bunch of colorful performers around Damon. While Affleck himself gives a wonderful deadpan performance as the CEO of Nike, Jason Bateman and Chris Messina provide some of the funniest moments in the film in each own way, and Messina is quite uproarious in his hilariously angry phone conversation scene with Damon. Viola Davis, a great American actress who recently joined the prestigious list of EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) winners, brings a considerable amount of gravitas to the story, and Chris Tucker and Marlon Wayans are as funny as expected in their small but substantial roles.
In conclusion, “Air” is quite enjoyable thanks to Affleck’s skillful direction and his terrific cast members, and Affleck demonstrates here that he is still a competent filmmaker who gave us “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), “The Town” (2010), and “Argo” (2012), which incidentally garnered him the Best Picture Oscar. To be frank with you, I am not interested much in basketball or shoes while also vaguely knowing about Jordan’s legendary professional basketball career, but the movie impressed and entertained me a lot, and that is certainly an achievement in my inconsequential opinion.