Movie Review | Air

Affleck’s ‘Air’ a victorious romp and slam dunk

From director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery comes “Air,” easily one of the best films of the year.  

Yes, I really said that.

“Air” brings us a story all the way back from 1984, the year Nike was looking for an athlete to endorse their brand. Due to a board of directors who cried “poor mouth” and the fact Nike wasn’t a leader in the shoe world yet, the company was looking at some lower rung players and setting aside a budget to sign several players at one time.

However, Nike exec and basketball fanatic Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) had a feeling in his gut that 21-year-old Chicago Bulls rookie Michael Jordan was their man – the only man – the one they should spend their entire budget on.

And then some.  

Vaccaro set about breaking rules and protocol, going so far as to travel to Jordan’s hometown in North Carolina and talk directly to Jordan’s sweet-yet-formidable mother, played gloriously by the legendary Viola Davis. After giving Mrs. Jordan his sales pitch, Vaccaro goes about convincing Nike head Phil Knight (a scene chewing Affleck), marketing execs Rob Strasser and Howard White (Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker, respectively), and Jordan’s arrogant agent David Falk (Chris Messina).

You know the rest of the story. The Jordans asked for an unprecedented deal, got what they asked for, and Nike, the Jordans and the world reaped the benefits from the phenomenon that was and is “Air Jordan.”

The movie relies on the driving force of Damon to keep the pacing of this movie rolling along, but the rest of the cast is always nearby to steer as well. Things are never dull and the audience is kept involved throughout the show. Even side conversations in convenience stores and office cubicles are vital. Damon’s Vaccaro is a workaholic, pushing through with a subtlety only achieved by his deep belief in Jordan and his love of basketball.  

Damon convinces us that Vaccaro can get the job done, and we are rooting for him from the get-go. The inner concentration, stifled rage, and hungry, focused angst Damon brings across as Vaccaro is superb.

Scenes between lifelong friends Damon and Affleck have a special spark, as always, and Affleck’s strutting, barefooted, meditating Knight is an absolute hoot – from his eye-popping color combinations of Nike’s 1980s jogging attire and his purple Porsche to his somewhat self-centered buffoonery.  

Overshadowing his acting prowess (but not much) is Affleck’s directing style: generous, impeccable and nuanced. His obvious attention to detail is apparent through interesting camera angles, close-ups and carefully orchestrated timing, as well as his exemplary casting. It is also apparent how appreciative Affleck is of his cast. It’s very evident he takes good care of them.

Davis, as Deloris Jordan, is beautiful, solid and the center of the Jordan familial universe – all played with ease and on-point concentration.  It is refreshing to see the way Davis carries herself, controlling her audience with a look, a sigh, or body language, giving us exactly what she thinks is necessary to present this vital character. Even a closing scene of Mrs. Jordan sitting on a porch and staring pensively off into the distance is powerful.

Bateman’s Strasser is watchful, mildly admonishing, and a wonderful addition to the ensemble as he quietly, cautiously supports Damon’s Vaccaro. Tucker is equally fantastic and is expertly placed as the over-the-top, eager marketing exec Howard White.

Messina as Jordan’s agent is hysterical and bombastic, smarmy and somewhat denigrating, yet also able to charm the heck out of clients and board members when necessary. His phone scene with Damon chastising him on the other end of the line is brilliant.

Jordan himself appears in the movie, both in video clips as himself and portrayed by actor Damian Young – although Young is shot only from the back and side. We never get a good look at him as Jordan. It won’t take audiences long to realize this is a necessary and intentional thing as the focus of this movie is not Jordan himself: it’s more about family, never giving up, and good old-fashioned faith in humanity.

There are few, if any negatives in this movie. As a child of the 1980s, I found the over-emphasis on some of the 80s fads a little over the top. I mean, the guys at their cubicles in 1984 playing Mattel’s electronic football game or reading questions from “Trivial Pursuit” were a bit much for me, but I need to remember that a lot of folks in the movie audience need the references to fully invest in this story.  

The soundtrack featuring the Violent Femmes, Squeeze, and REO helped me calm down a bit.

This is a well-done movie, and it will most likely go down as one of the all-time great sports-themed films. 

My grade: A. Go see it!

“Air” is showing now in theaters and is rated “R” for language. Running time is 1 hour, 52 minutes.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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