DUBAI: Ben Affleck’s fifth film as a director chronicles sportswear giant Nike’s efforts to land Michael Jordan as a sponsored athlete in the eighties.
The film takes place in 1984 – and don’t we know it. The opening montage packs in almost every pop culture reference synonymous with the eighties as the opening chords of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” (an apt metaphor) perfectly positions us.
Matt Damon stars as the slightly washed up basketball guru Sonny Vaccaro, who’s not quite ready to resign himself to spending what’s left of his life in mediocrity.
Nike has recently gone public, and under pressure to increase the company’s limited share of the basketball trainer market.
Sonny isn’t content with merely fending off competition from Converse and Adidas; he wants to find a star to be the spokesperson for the company and propel it into the public consciousness.
Enter Michael Jordan, a fresh-faced 18-year-old who hasn’t even stepped inside the NBA – never mind his own personalized line in trainers.
Sonny assembles a rag-tag band of middle-aged misfits to get the deal over the line. Damon leads the team, followed by senior Nike executives Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Howard White (Chris Tucker).
Matthew Mahar has a terrific comedic turn as Peter Moore, a Doctor Frankenstein of trainer design complete with an evil genius laboratory.
Affleck plays Phil Knight for straight laughs; an omnipresent, pink spandex-wearing, purple Porsche-driving Zen master who imposes his self-importance at every turn.
The real standout performance here, however, is Viola Davis who plays Jordan’s mother Deloris. As the executives chase blindly after her son, she maintains a cool assurance throughout.
It’s easy to see why. This is a mother who knew exactly who her son was going to be from day one.
The film moves along with the briskness of the Nike “swoosh” symbol itself. Pick your favorite song from the early eighties, and you’ll more than likely find it featured here.
“Air” is an exercise in exuberance and excitement. Even the most ardent cynic will have a hard time resisting the themes of hard-fought grit and inspiration.
Affleck and company have crafted that rare thing. Go see it. Just do it.
* Air is available on Amazon Prime.