The story of Michael Jordan has been the focus of movies and the excellent ESPN documentary series The Last Dance. Still, the origins of his branding and the rise of Nike as a global business are showcased in Ben Affleck’s Air, a breezy yet sincere docudrama that fires on all cylinders from the editing to the screenplay to the acting to the music. The songs of the 80s are deployed with precision, and these needle drops ooze with nostalgia. Affleck confidently directed a movie for all audiences. It’s a celebration for sports fans and non-fans alike.
The cast is one of the best in a movie this year, featuring Ben Affleck as Nike CEO Phil Knight, Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan, Chris Tucker as Howard White, and Jason Bateman as Rob Strasse. Affleck comes and goes as a supporting player who feels like he doesn’t have much screen. Air made me miss the charisma and charm of Tucker, and I hope he continues to come back to the screen often with more roles. He has a great energy that carries the movie anytime he shows up in a scene. My favorite performance, however, was from Viola Davis, who makes the most of her screen time as Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris, and his biggest advocate. The scene with her negotiating over the phone with Damon’s Vaccaro highlights her strengths as one of the greatest living actresses, and she’s a natural.
This heart of the movie is embodied in the attitude and persistence of Matt Damon’s character. The Basketball researcher is convinced that Jordan will be the next great NBA player and will go to great lengths to convince others, including his family, that they can believe in him. Even though the audience knows most of how this story plays out in the end, it is thrilling and crowd-pleasing to root for Nike. Late in the movie, Sonny delivers a monologue during a pitch meeting that will probably be played during future Michael Jordan tributes. It’s an effective moment and screens like a slick television spot covering Jordan’s highs and lows in life, and it entirely fits in this film.
You don’t have to like basketball or know much about Michael Jordan to appreciate it, but it would certainly help. Air is a movie about storytelling, branding, the persistence of the human spirit, believing in yourself, and innovation with an optimistic tone and a big heart. It is a story about American exceptionalism and creative capitalism that doesn’t hit you over the head with patriotic zeal or a political message. I loved it!