Rob Reviews "Air"
As a big fan of pop culture and its influence, it surprises me that it has taken this long for Air to become a thing. I was in the sixth grade when the first Air Jordan basketball shoes hit the market, and the splash that they made on the masses was both unpredictable and unprecedented on multiple levels. The fact that it has been almost forty years and people still run to the stores in droves when a new model of the shoe drops shows how timeless the Jumpman logo truly is.
Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair and stars as Nike CEO Phil Knight in 1984, just after the company has gone public. Their running shoes are the thing that keeps them afloat. Trying to compete with both Converse and Adidas in the basketball shoe division has been nothing short of an act of futility, and with the new season coming up, brand recruiting guru Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) truly believes in the talent of unproven rookie Michael Jordan out of the University of North Carolina. Facing the possible demise of the basketball division, Vaccaro decides to buck tradition and in some cases protocol to court Jordan through his parents, James (Julius Tennon) and Deloris (Viola Davis, who was specifically requested by Jordan himself), as the future of Nike and everyone around him hang in the balance.
With a supporting cast that also includes Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Jay Mohr, Marlon Wayans, and Matthew Maher, Affleck makes a very interesting choice to take first-time screenwriter Alex Convery’s telling of this amazing tale and keep it light and humorous while balancing the gravity of Nike’s crossroads at that moment with respect and reverence. This group of actors really do seem to be enjoying themselves, and that shows through their performances. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud as well as the sit-up-and-take-notice moments all the way through a screenplay that is paced amazingly well in contrast to a number of films I have seen recently. Convery keeps it tight by focusing on Vaccaro and his cohorts while using just enough time to show what is going on with not only the Jordan family but the other companies that have come to court the man who would be the greatest to ever play the game before he ever set foot on an NBA court. (Ooh… there was actually a little play on words there I didn’t realize was happening until after I read that back.)
The other thing that takes Air to the next level is the use of its soundtrack. Rolling out the hits as well as some deep cuts (Tangerine Dream, anyone?), music supervisor Andrea von Foerster absolutely sticks the landing with every choice made to match up with the scene it accompanies. I am hard-pressed to remember a film that does this level of success with music that was not written for it to capture the mood and storytelling that this one does.
From an overall presentation standpoint, I left that final decision to a good friend of mine that was my plus one for this screening who is one of the biggest “sneaker heads” that I know. His level of enjoyment would be the barometer that I would put my thoughts up against, and I knew early one that we would be pretty close to being in line. His sheer joy during and after the film told me that not only did they get the story right (check ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Sole Man” from 2015 on that front) but did so in a way that is both engaging and fun.
It's good to see Affleck work on a film whose tone is not as dark as the things he has done previously, and although Air may not be one of those that we talk about heavily later in the year, this is one that will be in the conversation for me as we talk about the best ensemble casts in a film during 2023.