Air review: Ben Affleck scores high in superbly crafted sports drama on Nike's deal with Michael Jordan

May 10, 2023 02:24 PM IST

Air review: Set in 1984, the film dramatizes the story of how Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) sealed a game-changing deal with Michael Jordan.

Ben Affleck pulls a neat throw with his latest directorial feature Air, that revolves around the story of how Michael Jordan signed up a landmark business deal with Nike and the subsequent arrival of the iconic Air Jordan sneakers. Affleck scores a high point with Air, but there's something almost too neat about it all to achieve the greatness and bravado of its central star. Still, Air is a superbly crafted and richly performed drama, whose awareness and drive make it a crowd-pleasing delight. (Also read: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 review: An immensely satisfying send off to James Gunn's heroes)

Matt Damon and Viola Davis in a still from Air.
Matt Damon and Viola Davis in a still from Air.

An electric plot

Air is not much about the game but rather the business surrounding it. Working here with a charged script by Alex Convery, Affleck underlines that parameter right from the get-go, with the opening montage smartly taking us through the pop-culture references of 1984 advertising. Affleck's most daring directorial decision is not showing Michael Jordan at all- he exists only in the background, or from behind. The focus then rests on Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), who believes that he has found the face of the struggling brand in a young Jordan. That's a long shot, considering Jordan is most likely to consider the rival brand Adidas, as indicated by his agent David Falk (Chris Messina). Nike CEO Phil Knight (played by Affleck himself) isn't entirely convinced. Still, Sonny is not ready to give up and pulls up at Jordan’s home in Wilmington, much to the surprise of Jordan's parents Deloris (Viola Davis) and James (Davis’ real-life husband Julius Tennon).

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From here onwards, Air deceptively pulls you in the world of endorsements and marketing strategies that involve mind games and shrewd partnerships. Some of the most deceptively intelligent scenes revolve around the board meetings for the deal that are attended by Jordan and his parents. Davis' eyes do all the talking. Then the turn comes to the meeting with Nike, the heavily orchestrated sequence moves from the hilariously obvious presence of Phil to the poignant reminder set by the self-effacing words of Sonny- which drives home what Jordan means to us all. Arriving in archival footage intercut with Sonny's monologue, this scene is the definitive highpoint of Air.

A fantastic cast

Affleck stages these sequences masterfully, never overdoing the fuss about these people and their choices, but quietly observing. He is aided sufficiently by the crisp editing work of William Goldenberg and the slick production design by François Audouy. It is the superb ensemble of performances that bring a nervous, spirited energy into this film. Damon is note-perfect as the paunchy, recklessly suave associate who won't take the easy way out. Chris Messina and Jason Bateman offer admirable support, and Affleck's presence is willfully convincing here. Still, powering through the network of these white men is Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother Deloris. The EGOT-winner makes her scenes glow with an undercurrent of control and compassion, and makes that final, crucial call of approval to Sonny elevate so much more than her lines. Her performance truly is the MVP of the film.

As Air draws in towards its denouement, it repeatedly hammers back to the men in the room and how they broke the rules of the game to revolutionize brand endorsements forever. Although Air is curious about the racial tensions that undercut these corporate strategies and market value decisions, the finale somehow diffuses that angle to revel in the more crowd-pleasing, nostalgia-infused realization of the American dream. Affleck, who is able to infuse so much vigor and pragmatism into the anatomy of a business, plays it too safe with the underlying codes of capitalism. Air is too bright and insistent to choose that long-shot in the air. It scores the point and that's exactly why it works so well.

Air will be available to stream on Prime Video from May 12.

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