If asked to think of the greatest basketball player of all time, people will most likely think of Michael Jordan. Ever since he joined the NBA, and even before that, he has shown absolute skill on the court, leading to a legendary status. Not only has he become known for his basketball skills, but he is also recognized for his sneakers. Air Jordan by Nike is now a household sneaker name. Millions of these sneakers get sold each year, and everyone wants to wear the sneakers that Jordan wears. How did this famous sponsorship come to be? That is the plot of “Air.” The company knew they had something special with Jordan, and they had to do whatever it takes to get him. This film shows a real-life underdog story. While it may seem strange, that underdog was Nike. There are conflicts and hard decisions made along the way, but everyone has to work together. On paper, the inner workings of a sneaker company may not seem fascinating. However, “Air” displays the energy and passion that goes on behind the scenes. Released on April 5 in theaters, this film portrays one small step for basketball, and one giant leap for basketball kind.
The year is 1984. While Nike had grown to be a successful sneaker company in the previous two decades, they are facing some struggles. During this time, Adidas and Converse were all the rage. Something had to be done. How should Nike gain more notoriety? Sponsorships. This is a part of Sonny Vaccaro’s (Matt Damon) job. He works in the basketball division of the company to help with marketing as well as scouting high school players to find the next “big thing.” Vaccaro is a real basketball expert, and he knows a great player when he sees one. When he sees college player Michael Jordan play, he knows that Jordan could be the biggest basketball superstar that the world has ever known. While Nike has set a budget to sponsor multiple young players, Vaccaro thinks they should go all in on Jordan. Not everyone sees his perspective right away. Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) thinks this is a huge risk for the company and Marketing Vice President Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) thinks this might not be safe for the somewhat sinking basketball division of the company. However, Vaccaro is standing firm. Meanwhile, Nike is not Jordan’s first choice, so it will take a lot of convincing to get him to sign with them. That convincing will be done through his agent David Falk (Chris Messina), and parents, Deloris (Viola Davis) and James (Julius Tennon) Jordan. Jordan is on the cusp of stardom, and it is up to Vaccaro to make sure Nike is by his side when that stardom is achieved.
This film had an all-star cast, which helped bring up its level. As the star of this film, Damon was able to show the importance of Vacarro while emphasizing the abilities of Jordan. That being said, while he was an excellent star, there could have been more done with his part. It seems that Damon has been playing similar parts in his recent films when he could stretch himself more. His character gave some emotional speeches in this film, but there could have been more intrigue with his character. Nevertheless, Damon is an all-star actor for a reason. Speaking of which, Affleck was able to bring that level of talent and combine it with an interesting character. It was a unique and somewhat eccentric part, and Affleck was able to capture that energy. Since he also directed the film, it makes sense that he was able to capture the character fully. I also found that Davis gave a wonderful performance as Jordan’s mother. When this film was being made, Jordan’s one request was that Davis play his mother, and he made the right choice. While the part of a superstar’s passionate mother has been done before, Davis was able to do it in an original way. She brought poise and grace to the role, and would command every scene that she was in. While the character of Jordan was not actually in this film, Davis brought the power of his legacy in her performance. This was a high-profile cast where everyone gave it their all. They were able to bring to life the working world of sports marketing.
It can be difficult to make a captivating film where the audience already knows what will happen. Since everyone has heard of Air Jordans, it is pretty clear that Jordan signs with Nike. When the payoff is known, what is left? However, this film still manages to create suspense. It causes the audience to forget what they know as they are captivated by this story. The stakes and tension are palpable, and everyone wants to see what will happen next. This was done through a really tight script and skilled directing. Every scene tied together well so that the audience would always anticipate what would happen next. The offices of a marketing department probably do not come across as exciting, but this film breaks that preconceived notion. It is fascinating to see how a legendary shoe came to life, and to learn about what people saw in Jordan. It was an interesting choice for the film to not actually have anyone play Jordan, just brief shots from the back. It is able to demonstrate that no one can replicate Jordan. He is in a league of his own that no one can copy. That is the point of this film. Through the power of shoes, this film demonstrated how Jordan was able to stand tall.
A strong part of this film is the script. In a film that is mostly based on conversations without special effects, a great script is a necessity. There is witty language along with some heartfelt speeches. There is no requirement to know a lot about basketball when entering this film. You do not even have to know a lot about sneakers. As long as you have heard of Michael Jordan and Nike, you should understand what is happening. The film is able to educate the audience on the rest with thorough explanation. So many statistics, charts and facts are shown, both about basketball players and sneaker companies. For the people that do know about basketball, there is a good amount of tongue-in-cheek references that have aged well. The script has a great amount of comedy, drama, and fascinating information.
In 2023, Jordan and Nike are two things that have been so ingrained in culture. The young people of today cannot remember a world where the company and the person were not seen as huge successes. This film transports people into a new time where that was the reality. This film knew it had a setting of 1984, and it took that seriously. From the ’80s style outfits to the large computers and phones to the ’80s song playing over each scene every ten minutes, this film was the 1980s. In order to create a proper period piece, the crew has to make sure nothing looks like playing pretend to the viewers. While all of that in your face can be overwhelming at times, this film is trying to take the audience into this time. There is not much color in this film, as a lot of it takes place in offices. There are rare pops of colors to even everything out, but it shows the normalcy that was soon disrupted. So there may not be much visual interest, but that just makes room for the dramatic scenes. Eyes will be on the film no matter what.
In an era of films that feel the need to go as big as possible, a straightforward film like this one is almost refreshing. This is the type of film that could have been appreciated ten, or even twenty years ago. There are no frills and no fuss when it comes to this film. It is a linear story about a large yet hidden moment in history. Some may argue that this is playing it safe, and it might have been just a safe and boring film in the hands of another director or writer. However, this film is able to captivate audiences and tell an exciting story. Every choice in this film was carefully calculated, which is what made the film fun to watch. It felt like being a fly on the wall during some important moments, and those moments showed that this sponsorship was far from easy. A new world is opened up, and the energy just bubbles over. A story of a sneaker deal was taken with the excitement of a high-action thriller. It can make anyone look at a pair of Nikes differently. So if you want to see the story behind one of the most famous sneakers ever, or you want high-stakes drama in a grounded setting, watch “Air” today.