AIR brings Ben Affleck and Matt Damon back together to tell the story of how Michael Jordan and Nike became synonymous and changed sports marketing forever.
Affleck plays Nike’s passionate CEO Phil Knight, and he directs this character-driven story brilliantly. Damon is Sonny Vaccaro, a sort of basketball savant who scouts athletes for partnerships with Nike. The two have a unique relationship, almost too casual for a business, but it allows Sonny to bring his biggest gamble to the table when he believes he sees something beyond special in Michael Jordan.
It’s a classic story, taking a risk that no one thinks is possible, being the underdog (vs. Converse and Adidas at the time), and betting on a dream. What makes it work, especially when we already know the outcome? I think it’s a combination of things. The fast-paced writing (Alex Convery) and the delivery of this script by an A+ cast is up front. Characters are fully developed. Add to that Affleck’s directing and creating tension, awe, and heart in just the right places.
There are especially notable performances from Chris Tucker (Howard White) and Chris Messina (David Falk). White offers some interesting groundwork on the business while Sonny struggles with a kind of “what are we doing here” discussion. He is conversational and animated. Falk plays Jordan’s agent and he goes OFF on a phone tirade with Sonny with some spectacular colorful language. I would love to see the outtakes of that scene, and I’d gamble that it was a lot of improv. Also important, Marlon Wayans (George Raveling) has a pivotal yet small scene that kind of sits with you as you leave the theater.
Jason Bateman plays the client marketing guru Strasser, and fits in naturally with his perfect comedic timing. It allowed me to forgive a particularly uncomfortable bathroom scene. Do guys talk shit when they shit? I don’t know, nor do I care to see it. Matthew Maher is exciting to watch as Nike Creative Director Peter Moore. I can imagine the warm glow of his light board has stories to tell.
Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris is stunning, smart, astute, and just takes your breath away while you watch her perform. She is a queen with so much reserved strength in her eyes. She becomes Deloris. Full respect.
Steeped heavily in pop culture and 80’s nostalgia with a ridiculous amount of needle drops, AIR is like a mixtape I’d give my kids to share a soundtrack to my teen years. I counted 13 songs, and that was after I realized I should start counting them. They aren’t subtle or creative, the lyrics often trying to explain the scene. Having so many of them just makes them feel flat and meaningless.
I worked in sports marketing in the nineties, so this brought back a lot of memories for me. However, I honestly had no idea that this relationship was the one that changed everything. I mean it’s obvious that it has been lucrative to partner with athletes, but learning that the structure of offers and deals is really owed to this AIR Jordan moment in time is pretty cool.