Directed by: Ben Affleck
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Written by Taylor Baker
Michael Jordan might be the face of Nike, but in Ben Affleck’s “Air” detailing the lead-up to what is now the most lucrative shoe deal ever signed by an athlete it’s the office workers and Jordan’s family members that take center stage. The film is centered on Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro, a middle-aged basketball scout presiding over the possible downfall of Nike’s basketball division. Paired with Jason Bateman’s Rob Strasser who works in marketing, the pair are tasked with revitalizing Nike’s image in basketball. With fewer resources than their competitors, Sonny and Rob have to make a splash if they want to keep their careers afloat.
Affleck in a supporting role plays the affluent and out-there Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike who at this point in the 80s is hovering between corporate stooge to the board and an aphorism-throwing sage that walks barefoot around his office. Including Phil and making him a central side character causes the film to thematically look not just toward its clear focus, a business deal with an athlete, but how corporate bureaucracy can often (or in this case barely not) take down the very same company that causes them to exist. By pushing decisions that run directly counter to how the business was originally founded. It’s not a particularly new insight, but it is in some ways a welcome one in a sports film distributed by the largest corporation in the world.
With some of the more lively office cinematography in recent memory, Robert Richardson brings his best-in-class panache to bear behind the camera which makes trips to the basement, business meetings, and conversations have the same fervor as any Mexican standoff you’ve seen him shoot in a Tarantino film. Rotating close-ups and extended shots let the film and characters breathe enough that while you’re in the cinema they feel real-ish to the point that you can get caught up in the drama of the negotiations, the creation of Air Jordan’s, and the consequences nearly as much as the film wants you too.
If there was a weak link in the film it might be just how familiar and feel-good it all is, no one outside of Chris Messina’s David Falk is excessively crass or self-interested which gives it a noticeable patina of whitewashing. But mostly “Air” is an easy-going, feel-good, crowd-pleaser that’ll have any sports, sneaker, or movie fan mostly content by the end.