Movie Review: Air

For many people, the sportswear company Nike is synonymous with basketball shoes, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the early ’80s, Nike was a distant third to rivals Converse and Adidas in this lucrative market segment. The story of how the company went from zero to hero in the hearts and wallets of basketball fans everywhere is recounted in AIR, directed by Ben Affleck and starring his best friend, Matt Damon.

It’s 1984 and Sonny Vaccaro (Damon, THE LAST DUEL; FORD V FERRARI) has been hired by Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight (Affleck, TRIPLE FRONTIER) to make the company’s basketball shoes as ubiquitous as its popular running shoes are. Nike, though, doesn’t have the kind of money to spend on endorsements that Converse and Adidas have. Vaccaro comes up with an audacious plan – roll the dice and gamble the year’s entire endorsement budget on one relatively unknown rookie. That kid is Michael Jordan, the league’s #3 draft pick from the University of North Carolina who was just signed by the Chicago Bulls. Vaccaro sees something in Jordan that few others have seen so far. But even before Knight commits to the money, Vaccaro has another problem to deal with. Jordan’s agent, David Falk (Chris Messina, I CARE A LOT), tells him that his client will probably sign with Adidas as they are prepared to throw in a red Mercedes as a signing bonus. Vaccaro figures that if he’s ever going to have a chance signing Jordan, he’ll have to convince the young man’s formidable mother, Deloris (Viola Davis, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM) that Nike is the better partner for her son. Breaking all convention, Vaccaro goes around Falk and directly to Deloris to make his pitch – a shoe made specifically for Michael, in the Bulls’ colours of red and black. But what to call this new shoe? He’s got a name in mind.

AIR is a total slam dunk. It has been no secret that Jordan himself wanted Davis to play his mother and she is fabulous here. Deloris, perhaps more than anyone else, knew the value of her son’s worth and she wasn’t going to accept anything less than that. Because of her, Nike agreed to give Jordan a share of the revenue on every pair of Air Jordans sold. That was completely unheard of in the industry at the time. Today, however, that practice is now commonplace, not just in basketball but in all professional sports, and it has made Jordan and other sports stars multi-millionaires. In case you’re wondering, Nike hasn’t done too badly either, as audiences find out at the end of the movie.

Affleck very smartly keeps the focus off Jordan, concentrating instead on the people around him in this tale. Although Jordan’s voice can be heard at one (or perhaps two) points, audiences never see the face of the actor who plays him. The director also packs his soundtrack with a jukebox full of ’80s hits that either remind or inform viewers, depending on their age, of iconic events of the time to put the story into proper context. Damon and Messina are both a lot of fun to watch, especially when their characters are yelling at each other, and Jason Bateman (GAME NIGHT, TV’s OZARK and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT), Chris Tucker (the RUSH HOUR films) and Marlon Wayans (the A HAUNTED HOUSE films) all put in solid supporting performances.

AIR is playing now in Hong Kong’s cinemas. You don’t have to have ever owned a pair of Air Jordans to enjoy this film. (I never have.) Just watch it.

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