As light as its title, Air is an easygoing yet absorbing docudrama about how Nike coaxed a hot young basketball player named Michael Jordan over to their advertising roster and created the billion-selling Air Jordan sneaker in the process.
Directed by Ben Affleck – 2023
Reviewed by Mark Tapio Kines
The story opens in 1984, and if director/costar Affleck is heavy-handed with his opening montage of that year’s events and his wall-to-wall soundtrack of its Top 40 hits, it actually rings true: like Affleck, I was there, I was an adolescent, and I can confirm that mainstream pop culture dominated nearly every aspect of American life back then. And the Air Jordan is pop culture personified. I was only surprised that it was being worked on so early: I never owned a pair myself, and in fact gave up on Nike that year, as their blue-and-gold running shoes were becoming passé as brands such as Adidas and Reebok were taking over. So I wasn’t aware of the shoe’s existence until years later.
Nike’s iffy status amongst trendy young people in the 1980s is actually what drives Air‘s plot: Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, and Chris Tucker play real life executives at Nike’s floundering, under-budgeted basketball advertising division. The company’s head honcho Phil Knight (hilariously portrayed by Affleck himself as a lordly weirdo) is skeptical about basketball, thinks running shoes should remain Nike’s big player, and won’t give his boys the money they need to go after Jordan. Moreover, Jordan, then just 18, has barely even proven himself on the college basketball circuit – and he has made it clear that he will work with any shoe company except for Nike.
It’s not that Air gets you to root for a corporate megalith like Nike, but it does draw you with its “How did they do it?” plot, thanks to its crackling original screenplay by first-time screenwriter Alex Convery. (As for Affleck’s direction, it’s purely workmanlike; the only clever-ish stamp he puts on the film is that he never shows us the face of the actor playing Jordan.)
Lest you deign not to see a movie about a bunch of middle-aged white guys angling to make a fortune off of a young black athlete, here comes Viola Davis, in a typically peerless performance, as Jordan’s mother Deloris, who handles all her son’s business affairs. A no-nonsense woman who chooses her words and her tactics carefully, it’s a joy to watch her quietly parry each of Damon’s feints. Damon truly is the film’s star, however, and Convery and Affleck give him all the best monologues.
It may not be as groundbreaking as its titular sneaker, but Air is reliably enjoyable and I walked away feeling like I learned something. Worth your while.
> Playing at IPIC Theaters, Regency Academy Cinemas – Pasadena, Regal Edwards Alhambra Renaissance, AMC Santa Anita 16, Regal UA La Canada, LOOK Dine-In Cinemas Glendale, and AMC Americana at Brand 18.
We hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, please consider supporting the Colorado Boulevard’s journalism.
Billionaires, hedge fund owners and local imposters have a powerful hold on the information that reaches the public. Colorado Boulevard stands to serve the public interest – not profit motives.
While fairness guides everything we do, we know there is a right and a wrong position in the fight against racism and climate crisis while supporting reproductive rights and social justice. We provide a fresh perspective on local politics – one so often missing from so-called ‘local’ journalism.
You can access Colorado Boulevard’s paywall-free journalism because of our unique reader-supported model. People like you, informed readers, keep us independent, beholden to no outside influence, and accessible to everyone.
Please consider supporting Colorado Boulevard today. Thank you. (Click to Support)