Air – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Ben Affleck

Basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is looking for the next great player to sell a shoe on for struggling Nike, placing hundreds of thousands of dollars on Michael Jordan (Damien Delano Young)

The Nike rules often act as chapter headings throughout Ben Affleck’s latest directorial outing, Air. They’re spread across a wall in CEO Phil Knight’s (Affleck) office, where he frequently meets with talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) to disparage his ideas on how to grow the brand’s basketball division. At risk of being shut down Sonny believes that he has the answer in forming a shoe around an athlete, the next rookie player yet to do great things in the NBA. It’s 1984 and Michael Jordan (Damien Delano Young, almost always shown from the back) is just about to enter the scene, and he’s also being observed by the likes of Adidas and Converse – the two market leaders at the time.

Rule 9 opens the film stating that “it won’t be pretty”. A statement which implies we’re going to see a series of heated arguments and struggles throughout the film. Certainly, there are arguments and struggles but whether they become truly heated and intense is a different matter. There’s a traditional feel to the film as a whole as we see various conversations in various rooms about trying to secure a deal that will likely save Nike if it goes ahead. The tone and style of Air are generally rather calm and push across the feeling of low-stakes drama, perhaps not quite what’s hoped for, as the traditional stylings become increasingly felt as we move from conversation to conversation. Rule 3 encouraging “break the rules” doesn’t quite seem to be observed here. As the characters fondly remember “the old Nike days” the film calls back to those of years gone by, without itself feeling dated.

When bringing the elements together, or in this case the various characters who Sonny deals with in his struggle to bring about the career-defining move, the film is at its best. A boardroom meeting in particular acts as one of the film’s highlights as the long-built-up-to pitch finally takes place. The key characters are present, including Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother Deloris who feels very sidelined in the story, especially as such a pivotal figure, and the themes at play summarise everything that has come beforehand, and what this is all for, rather well.

Michael Jordan’s name is used frequently throughout to remind us as to just what’s at stake, alongside various careers and an entire major business/ company, yet it’s very much apparent that this is a film largely about Sonny. Damon’s character is certainly at the centre of everything with most other characters being at the side coming in to play whenever relevant or needed for him to bounce off of. This especially being the case for Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother Deloris, a key player in the negotiation and search for a shoe deal for her son yet often only really present for key moments where she can help move things along and speak for the largely unseen player.

Things move along and are generally watchable throughout, if occasionally rather slow due to not being entirely engaging. Events may suffer from the fact that this is largely a rather direct drama about a shoe, albeit an iconic one but when the elements come together to work as one in the moment that’s when the highlights of the film appear. There’s a light spark, a burst of energy, when you can tell the characters have the same in their eyes and minds, the decision to add more red to the shoe is genuinely one of the best moments in the film. Such moments may be infrequent, but they make the film and particularly add to the better second half as much of the build up of the initial conversations pays off. As a whole Air doesn’t quite go as out there as the Nike rules may hope, but it makes for a likable traditional drama.

Air is very much in the traditional vein, it tells its story well enough and makes for a likable, if occasionally lacking feature. However, while largely watchable, it does suffer from the fact that it’s largely about a, admittedly iconic, shoe.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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