Posts Tagged ‘"Air"’

Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

“AIR”  My rating: B  (Prime Video) 

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Air” describes itself as “a story of greatness,” but exactly whose greatness is up for grabs.

Ostensibly the latest directing effort from Ben Affleck is  referring to the greatness of Michael Jordan, arguably the finest basketball player of all time and the namesake of Nike’s famous Air Jordan athletic shoe which debuted in 1984.  Except that we never see Michael Jordan in the film, save for some archival footage of him in action on the court.

Given Jordan’s physical absence as a character, one must go looking for other recipients of the “greatness” crown.

Well, there’s Nike founder and chief Phil Knight, portrayed by Affleck as a sort of Zen egoist who spouts woo woo philosophy while driving a bright purple sports car that cost more than what the average Joe earns in several years. Knight is an interesting oddball — practically an idiot savant — and good for some unintended laughs. But great? Nah. At best he’s a supporting character here.

A more likely candidate is Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro, whose job is to sign up rookie NBA players with Nike sponsorships.  

Sonny — who apparently has no life beyond sneakers and sports — is an underdog visionary determined to recruit NBA newbie Michael Jordan to the Nike camp, beating down fierce competition from Adidas and Converse. Everyone tells Sonny that  his quest is Quixotic, that Jordan is an Adidas fan and that Nike’s measly budget for basketball shoe promotion (the company’s fortune lies with running foot ware) is embarrassingly limited.

Sonny may have a pot belly and puffy jowls, but he exhibits some signs of greatness.  He’s the little engine that could, who uses grit, determination and smarts to pull off a marketing miracle.  A prime example of good ol’ American capitalist can-do spirit.

And then there’s the Air Jordan itself, an eye-catching explosion of red leather and rubber. Can a shoe have a personality?  Maybe.  But it can sure generate cash…in 2022 more than $5 billion. By this film’s definition, that’s pretty damn great.

You’ve got to credit director Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery with this at least — they elevate Sonny’s quest beyond the merely mercenary to the nearly mythic. Against our better judgment we find ourselves rooting for Sonny to pull off the marketing coup of the century.

Convery’s savvy screenplay features much Mamet-ish high-speed shop talk (various Nike conspirators are portrayed by the likes of Jason Bateman, Christ Tucker and Matthew Maher as the cellar-dwelling dreamer who actually hand crafts the first Air Jordan);  Chris Messina practically chews up the screen as David Falk, Jordan’s silkily venomous agent.

But the key to the movie may be the great Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris.  Early in the film Sonny is advised that “The mamas run stuff…especially in black families.”

Davis’ Deloris is both intimidating and huggable…a loving matriarch with a tough-as-nails business sense and an unshakeable faith in her boy’s value.  She makes Sonny improve his game.

There’s a beat-the-clock intensity at the heart of the film — Sonny and his colleagues must dream up and create an Air Jordan prototype in just one exhausting weekend — and the whole enterprise has been so cannily timed and bracingly acted that even those of us who care little about sports and even less about sports capitalism will find ourselves caught up in Sonny (and Nike’s) impossible dream.

|Robert W. Butler

Read Full Post »