Movie Review: Air 

By: Andrew Warren  |  May 9, 2023

By Andrew Warren, Staff Writer

Air is the story of Sonny Vaccaro, the head of Nike’s failing basketball division in 1984. In a last-ditch effort to save his job, Sonny bets the entire marketing budget on building a shoe line around the hottest new rookie, Michael Jordan. He only has to convince the CEO of Nike, the marketing head of Nike, Michael Jordan himself, and most importantly, Michael Jordan’s mom.

The film is directed by Ben Affleck, his fifth directed feature. I’ve believed for a long time now that Affleck is a better director than actor and I think this film proves me right. As a director, he’s fairly modest.  He never shows off with impressive long takes or with lengthy footage of natural landscapes. He just tells a good story without boring the audience, which is harder than it sounds. Just take a look at George Clooney’s directing career.

The real strength of the film, and most of its 70 million dollar budget, lies in its cast. Sonny is played very well by Matt Damon, who has a proven track record of playing loveable losers who take wild chances. I’m thinking of We Bought a Zoo, The Martian, and Ford V Ferrari. He’s funny, convincing, and delivers a classic movie speech at the end. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch.

The other Nike executives are played by Affleck (as CEO Phil Knight), Jason Bateman (as marketing head Rob Strasser), and Chris Tucker (Howard White as Nike-player relations). Like Damon, Bateman and Tucker are both playing to their strengths. Tucker does his fast-talking make-fun-of-white-people shtick and it works. Bateman does his wry and sarcastic performance and it works. But in my opinion, Affleck had the most impressive performance. His character is very funny but never strains credulity as a real person. Affleck never goes for the cheap laugh at the expense of his performance.

Chris Messina, who plays Jordan’s agent David Falk, definitely goes for the laughs. Messina is hysterical as the angry and vulgar Falk.  My favorite scene was when he screams at Sonny over the phone for a full five minutes, cursing at him and threatening his career. He probably only has 15 minutes of screentime but leaves quite the impression.

The last actor I need to talk about is Viola Davis, who plays Deloris Jordan. All the dramatic weight is on her shoulders. Every actor gets to make witty banter or have some fun except Viola Davis. Mrs. Jordan is intent on making sure her son is given the respect and prestige his talent deserves. She cuts through the corporate BS and always gets straight to the point. Davis’ grounded portrayal keeps the movie from becoming a full corporate satire. Her ability to mesh so well with the other actors, given their differences in tone, is very impressive. When Viola Davis walks into the room, every other actor gets on her wavelength. I’m predicting an Oscar nomination for her.

I’ve spoken a lot about the acting because there’s not much else to talk about. The script, editing, and cinematography are all fine. Neither egregiously bad nor overtly great, just okay.  

My biggest gripe is with the subject matter. On the surface, Air is a movie about a shoe. Deep down, it’s still a movie about a shoe. There are scenes that have heavy themes, such as compensating players fairly, or the pressures of celebrity. However, they come off as tangential to the real message: “The AirJordan was a cool shoe!” Ford V Ferrari is about more than racing and Moneyball is about more than baseball. But this film never rises above its subject matter. One could say Air never gets off the ground.

SCORE: 6/10

Score if you care about Michael Jordan: 7/10