|Directed by:||Ben Affleck|
|Written by:||Alex Convery|
|Starring:||Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Viola Davis, Matthew Maher, Julius Tennon|
|Released:||April 6, 2023|
In the same vein as Ford v Ferrari, Moneyball, and Jerry Maguire, Air provides behind-the-scenes insight in the world of sports management. The scope here is narrow. Set over a few weeks in 1984, it’s centred on a group of key staff at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon as they try to sign the much hyped 21-year-old basketballer Michael Jordan to a sponsorship deal before the start of the new NBA season.
Inspired by The Last Dance which he watched during the early stages of the pandemic, first-time writer Alex Convery crafted a script, and it found its way into the hands of Oscar winners Ben Affleck (Argo) and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) via their new production company, Artist Equity. Affleck took the reins as director (and also a supporting role) while Damon stepped into the shoes of lead character Sonny Vaccaro, a scout/marketer at Nike who was tasked with identifying up-and-coming basketball players worth signing.
Noticeably absent from the film is the character of Michael Jordan. The logic of Convery is that not seeing Jordan makes him “more mythological and mystical” but I’m unconvinced about this creative decision. It becomes a weird distraction by film’s end. In the handful of scenes in which Jordan appears, such as the final pitch meeting in the Nike boardroom, he is either shown from behind or obscured by other actors. It’s an odd big-screen debut for actor Damian Delano who plays Michael Jordan in a film about Michael Jordan… and yet we don’t see him.
Another nigglingly annoying element of Air is its over-the-top montage to the year 1984. I’ve no problem with the fun opening credits, which will bring back memories for those who lived through the era, but I’m unsure why it needed to be repeated, albeit fleetingly, at other stages. Just let the cool sets and costumes (with an emphasis on Ben Affleck’s running gear) speak for themselves. Do we really need unexpected clips of Ghostbusters and popular 1980s candy?
While I’m not fully on board with the artistic approach, Air is still an engaging movie because of its story, people, and dialogue. It offers well-crafted comedy as illustrated by a scene where Affleck’s CEO character arrives late to the pitch meeting and tries to explain himself. It also offers points of reflective, honest drama. Perhaps my favourite moment of the film is an innocuous conversation between Damon and Jason Bateman (as the Vice-President of Marketing) as they talk about their personal lives while sharing coffee in an empty office as they work over the weekend.
Every member of the cast pulls their weight. Damon is terrific as the overweight, nerdish scout (his speech at the end is a cracker), Chris Messina is amusing as Jordan’s ruthless, foul-mouthed agent, Matthew Maher is great as the chance-taking shoe designer, and Viola Davis is inspiring as Jordan’s negotiating mother. The real Michael Jordan, who was involved with the production, specifically requested Davis early in the casting phase. It’s also great to see Rush Hour’s Chris Tucker in his first movie role in 7 years.
One could argue the script is over-romanticised (it’s so easy to look back at events with the benefit of hindsight) but I like the way is addressed via two scenes at a convenience which serve as bookends to the main show. Air knows what kind of film it wants to be… and it does it very well.