The story of Michael Jordan and his rise to superstardom has been well documented. A ten-part documentary series, a movie featuring the Looney Tunes, and his iconic plays only tell part of his story. Jordan’s iconoclastic nature began with a red and black sneaker that forever changed the industry. Weirdly enough, it makes sense that Air, from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, would thrive thanks to their sensibilities. With a stellar ensemble, including a phenomenal Viola Davis, Air delivers an exciting and well-paced boardroom drama.
In 1984, Nike was not the juggernaut we know today. Representing less than twenty percent of the market, Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) needs to change the culture. He works on convincing his bosses Phil Knight (Affleck) and Howard White (Chris Tucker) to court a single athlete – Michael Jordan. With Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Peter Moore (Mathew Maher) they design the perfect shoe and pitch. Yet it still requires buy-in from Michael’s family (Davis & Julius Tennon) and his agent David Falk (Chris Messina).
Known for their crowd-pleasing and emotional collaborations, Affleck and Damon reunited to create a studio based on talent participation. It’s impossible to ignore the subtext. As actors who led multi-million dollar franchises and artisans who create authentic spectacles, they believe in rewarding talent. After all, it’s greatness from the talent that drives the market. This subtext spills throughout Air, and with a cast and crew this talented, it’s impossible to ignore.
Davis leads the way in limited screen time, adding incredible gravitas to her storyline. While Vaccaro/Damon is where we are planted as a point-of-view, she’s the emotional heartbeat of Air. Without her, the power of this story diminishes. She never pushes too hard, but her stern negotiating leads to a drastic change in the shoe industry.
Meanwhile, the men of Air each get highlight moments. Messina explodes onto the screening, absolutely feasting in three scenes. The energy he pumps into the film carries over to Damon. Bateman’s Strasser brings a subdued nervousness to the story. Yet he also brings an air of professionalism that is difficult to replicate. In many ways, it’s a perfect mirror to his work on Arrested Development. Tucker also shines in a limited time, making you miss him as a screen presence.
Of course, Damon and Affleck bring their own baggage into the Air, but it’s undeniably better for it. Damon once again continues to play highly competent but flawed men. He may want what is best for everyone, and it’s impossible to ignore the similarities to late ‘90s Tom Hanks on the screen. Meanwhile, Affleck channels his manic energy into the coolest man alive. While he appears to seek control of his wild life, his version of Knight feels minutes away from breaking at any moment.
Affleck lets his artisans go to work, and they reward him time and time again. The period setting is brought beautifully to life from the earliest frames. Robert Richardson shoots the film to pop off the screen. He expertly blocks out the board rooms, bars, and offices to deliver a sense of place. As Jordan tours the offices, the claustrophobia of the Nike offices comes into focus. Richardson’s abilities have never been in doubt, but few dramas like Air are shot so skillfully.
The cinematography adds to the energetic editing from William Goldberg. With Affleck, Goldberg keeps the urgency top of mind. Air moves like a thriller, despite its setting in corporate America. The tonal balance shines through, and quippy one-liners feel more organic in the process.
While Air perfectly embodies the “Dad movie,” it also opens itself up to questioning. A single character remarks about the possibility of sweatshops, but nothing is done to change that. One could read a lack of agency from Jordan, partly because the film chooses to leave him as a background player. Perhaps most damning, Air asks us to root for talented but powerful white men to make money off a person of color. There are some icky politics in play there, and while Air addresses most of these concerns, it’s still one to remember.
Despite these qualms, Air becomes shines from beginning to end. There are a few movies more enjoyable in 2023. Affleck returns to form after his last lackluster directorial feature and proves himself one of our most talented filmmakers. With its brisk pace, brilliant performances, and outright fun screenplay, Air instantly shoots to the top of the most rewatchable films of the year.
One thought on “Review: ‘Air’ – Director Ben Returns to Form with Outstanding Ensemble”
You can rewatch this or are you just saying that to fit in with the others who like this for a reason that can only be Bennn Aaaaflack, mattt daaamon! Boo, this was boring