‘AIR’ is a Riveting Dive Into a Subject I Never Cared About Until Now

There’s a problem going on in Hollywood, with the influx of superhero and franchise material, the mid-range budget drama for adults feels almost extinct. Luckily, Ben Affleck, of all people, seems like the guy to save the day at this moment in time. The creation of the Air Jordan Nike shoe, the existence of said shoe, or the career of Michael Jordan are all topics I haven’t given a single thought to over the course of my life. And yet, Ben Affleck’s AIR, a film about the executives that put this deal together, is the first great film I’ve seen in 2023.

The year is 1984. Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) works at Nike, and is tasked with branding a new identity for the company. Converse and Adidas are the top basketball shoes at the moment, and Nike is flailing. He has the idea to sign up and coming NBA player Michael Jordon with the company, an idea that baffles his coworkers, marketing exec Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and his boss Phil Knight (Affleck). In courting Jordan, he travels to North Carolina to visit Jordan’s persistent mother Delores (Viola Davis) in hoping of signing the man he’s sure will become the basketball star of his generation.

It helps that AIR is not really a film about basketball. It’s a film about creative process and the way a deal can come together and change history. This deal changed the precedent for all that followed it. Even without an appreciation for basketball, I can definitely appreciate a film that makes you care about something that never would have crossed your mind otherwise. Most of the drama unfolds in boardrooms and offices and this film is extremely dialogue heavy. I can get how one would think that sounds totally dry, but it’s riveting pretty much from beginning to end. Alex Convrey’s screenplay is so snappy, so witty and moves along so well, it really makes this thing soar.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have the same easy chemistry they always have. Both of them are so well versed in this kind of thing, it feels like they can do this in their sleep, and yet neither seems to be phoning it in. Jason Bateman is also pretty outstanding here, and I really liked some of the details about his character which I won’t spoil for you here. Viola Davis is giving a commanding and layered performance, even though the majority of her scenes involve her on the other end of a phone call. Chris Messina, who I normally do not like, has an absolutely hilarious scene that left me laughing so hard I was gasping for breath.

In the same way Mad Men made the creative process of advertising endlessly fascinating, AIR does a stellar job of sticking you into this world you’d never given much thought to before, and making every aspect of that world fascinating. The period detail is great, however I would say the production design lays it on a little thick with the 1984-ness of everything. We get random mentions of Trivial Pursuit and the Ghostbusters franchise, for no apparent reason. We also get lots and lots of 80’s needle drops, resulting in a bitchin’ soundtrack album, but ultimately it feels like a bit of an onslaught in the actual movie.

You leave AIR fully aware of why this story was important enough for a movie of it to exist, even if it’s something you never gave a damn about. Stellar-across-the-board performances help, but it also helps that it’s incredibly written, well directed, and moves at a sharp clip and doesn’t go on too long. It’s an Amazon film, so it will be available to stream there at some point. I’m glad this is making money theatrically, but I also think it’ll do great numbers when the time comes to visit family over the holidays. I can see a lot of adult families turning this on and everyone getting something out of it. I think I could recommend this to just about anyone.

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