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MOVIE REVIEW: It’s All About the Money: a review of ‘Air’

For all the great filmmaking in Ben Affleck-directed ‘Air’ – from the exquisite tight shots and the deep dive into the zeitgeist of the 80s, as well as fantastic performances by Viola Davis and Chris Messina – there is something that is completely empty in the film that dramatizes probably one of the greatest sports deal in history. The movie is about the deal that partners up Nike with the basketball legend Michael Jordan. The 112-minute film is really just a pitch that a talent scout in the sports brand attempts to make with a very promising rookie back in 1984. The film benefits from everyone knowing the legacy of the legendary basketball player – even someone like me who is not familiar with basketball, even I know who Michael Jordan is – and are all aware of how much the sneaker industry makes a year. 

Basically, we all come in knowing this is going to be a happy ending. So all the film has to do is to create the stakes and try to make it all fun to watch. Affleck goes full-on with his depiction of the 80s – the fashion, the production design, even the picture quality has that saturated 80s look – and it helps create that world. We are so steeped into it. 

The story follows Matt Damon, who plays Sonny Vaccaro, who has to help Nike find an athlete to endorse their show, or they’ll have to close down their basketball division and focus just on their running shoes. In 1984, Nike was not the powerhouse that it was then and was only third to Adidas and Converse. They don’t have prime picks and Sonny must make magic or the whole division gets shut down.

Instead of spending their small budget on three mid-level players, Sonny insists on spending the whole budget on just one player: a rookie called Michael Jordan. And this is where the film fails to truly capture the imagination of the audience and proves that the film might be nothing more than an expensive, star-studded Nike commercial: the story, with a screenplay by Alex Convery, only creates one scene that shows us that Vaccaro has found THE player to endorse. 

After watching one short clip from one of his games, Vaccaro is sure that Michael Jordan is going to be the greatest player ever. We know it. We saw it happen and it’s truly the stuff of legend. But the film relies on this and leaves the rest to our stock knowledge. 

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Sonny then spends the rest of the movie convincing everyone at Nike to put everything on this one rookie and then, later on, spends the second half convincing Jordan’s mother (played by a fantastic Viola Davis) that they should sign up with Nike. That’s it. That’s the whole movie – it’s a movie about a pitch, and a successful one at that – and while the movie tries to show us the stakes that was at play and the risk that so many people took – expressed beautifully in a scene between Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro and his co-worker Rob Strasser played by Jason Bateman – at the end of the day it’s a movie about a big million-dollar company making even more millions.

There is an attempt to put the importance in Michael Jordan’s legacy – that the deal Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mother, insists upon giving her son a huge amount of benefits that was unheard of at that period of time – but this doesn’t ring true because never once the film take the time to show us what a great player he is. We know it. The film knows we know it but by not giving any screen time to Jordan on the court everything becomes hearsay. Millions and millions of dollars and the jobs of so many people are at stake because this athlete is supposed to be worth it, and they never bother to show us this.

In fact, they never even show us Michael Jordan’s face. They get an actor, Damian Delano Young, to play the young Michael Jordan but they never show his face, shooting always at an off angle favoring Davis or Damon, and never letting him speak. If this story is about his greatness as an athlete, if the push was to show us that the skill and the promise of this young basketball player was enough to cause this much trouble, how come we never get to see him play or see his face?

No, what is given emphasis here is the money: how much were they willing to risk, and how much they were going to make. There’s no real character development here – Sonny Vaccaro, Rob Strasser, Deloris Jordan – they are exactly the same people when this movie started but they just ended up much richer. At the end of the film, they put down some facts about how much Air Jordans, the shoe that is at the center of the film, sold that year and the years to follow and how much Michael Jordan makes every year because of this deal – and it’s a lot – and, sure, it talks about how Deloris Jordan has opened up charities and gives back. 

But it is a whole lot to do about money. They put so much emphasis on the possible loss of the basketball division but also mention that the company was already making so much in running shoes. They weren’t going to go bankrupt at all. 

Yes, great performances – Viola Davis, Chris Messina, and even a wonderful cameo turn by Marlon Wayans – and some snappy dialogue and great camera work (though the music is so intrusive and overselling the 80s vibe way too much) but at the end of the day, it feels like a commercial or a product placement.

My Rating:

2 stars - AIR movie review



Air is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here

Photo Credit: “Warner Bros. Pictures”

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