Air (2023) Movie Review – How Nike landed the biggest deal in sports history

How Nike landed the biggest deal in sports history

Under Ben Affleck’s able direction, the new sports movie ‘Air’ really takes off. The story is not a biographical film or a dramatization of how Nike became the present-day corporate entity. Instead, ‘Air’ cleverly mashes together the behind-the-scenes debauchery behind Nike’s deal to sign Michael Jordan and observant commentary about a revolutionary reform in sports history.

There are marked and worthy inklings of the American culture at the time and how basketball today is the nation’s heartbeat. Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, and Ben Affleck himself star in the central roles, while Chris Tucker and Chris Messina portray supporting yet pivotal characters.

‘Air’s cinematic universe is short and streamlined. You hardly ever see the insides of Knight or Vaccaro’s houses, at all, or even a basketball court. Heck, we don’t even see Michael Jordan’s face or hear his voice too much. There is a recognition of what the project is really about, and the clarity of Alex Convery, who wrote the film’s screenplay, reflects in how our main characters and the central narrative do not scamper around to expand the film’s creative horizons. 

There is a laser focus on what we need to see and the larger comment that the makers are trying to get across with their messaging. The screenplay by Convery is especially good and must be a contender come the awards season. But there is a lingering stoicism that keeps viewers at a distance from articulating what the film is really about. ‘Air’ is thoroughly engaging yet confounding when you switch off and think about what you’ve just seen. It is purposefully understated to disarm you with its brilliance and creative genius. 

‘Air’ is simply about depicting the events that led to Michael Jordan signing with Nike and becoming America’s most loved and illustrious competitive athlete ever. History is a testament to his turning into a cultural icon and an anthropological phenomenon, and Affleck and Damon rightly chose to skip that part. Jordan himself contacted the makers to give his blessings for the movie, along with some sort of creative mantle to form the substance of it. 

Affleck’s storytelling talents also bring to the surface the story of a visionary. Men like Vaccaro and Beane are almost like gambling men. They know they’re not going to win every hand. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop playing them. If perfection is the name of the game, men like Vaccaro and Beane wouldn’t exist. But they do. And that is evidence enough of the fact that you need to win one big hand that compensates for all the other failures in your life.

The risk-taking audacity in moments like these is what makes these stories worth telling. We live through the tension and uncertainty of what will happen next throughout the film. Every second of that climax especially, until Vaccaro takes charge and the reins of his future in his hands. “You’re remembered for the rules you break” is not said lightly. It is repeated and reminded to us with great respect and utmost sincerity continuously to pay homage to the risk-takers.

‘Air’ also touches upon the making of the American dream and how inspiringly this idea has been marketed through generations. “Building you up into something that doesn’t exist and then tearing you down” are golden words that encapsulate the precarious essence of this Dream. 

Matt Damon is sensational as Sonny Vaccaro, giving us a combination of Sugerman (played by Adam Sandler) in Hustle and Beane (played by Brad Pitt) in Moneyball. He brings vision, insight, and empathy to the character. Damon has always made his portrayals credible and quite frankly, he is one of those actors that convinces you no one could play his characters better than he can once you have seen them. Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, and Chris Tucker bring authenticity to the roles in a very level-headed way.

Davis’ approach is measured and respectful of Jordan’s mother, Deloris, without trying to embody her. She creates her own character in the scheme of ‘Air’ but in a way that reflects how important she has been to Jordan’s life. ‘Air’ revealed how Nike built a shoe line around Jordan tapping into something deeper; into the player’s identity. “A shoe is a shoe until someone wears it” was etched into the idea behind Air Jordans, the best-selling sneakers in the world. 

‘Air; is also mindful of the reality of trading horses. Investing yourself in a vision comes with a cost; you give up a part of yourself to make history, or at least have a shot at doing it. The film keeps you right on the edge without being edgy. You know how it’ll turn out and yet you sit there with bated breath for that moment of triumph to manifest. That’s what Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have done with ‘Air’. It’s not put out on a platter for you; it’s not always a straight line. But it is simple and heartfelt enough to win you over.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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