Ben Affleck returns to the true story genre for his fourth directorial effort in Air from Amazon studios. First-time writer Alex Convery pens the screenplay, which reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike's fledgling basketball division. This partnership revolutionized sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This moving story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son's immense talent, and the basketball phenom who became the greatest of all time.
The year was 1984, and future NBA icon Michael Jordan was chosen as the third overall pick in the NBA draft. Meanwhile, the fledging shoe company Nike is struggling, and wiz kid Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) needs a break and fast. Sonny is known in the shoe world as a gambler with a kind heart. He wants the best for young ball players. Currently, Sonny is looking at rising basketball stars with the possibility of shoe deals from Nike's CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck).
One day Sonny has a Eureka moment when he sees a tape of MJ in his freshman year at UNC. Since MJ can easily save the company, Sonny wants to offer MJ the total basketball budget of $250,000. While Vaccaro's advisor and friend Howard White (Chris Tucker) is on board with the idea, Knight and VP of marketing Robert Strasser (Jason Bateman) aren't sold just yet. Despite learning from Jordan's agent David Falk (Chris Messina), the phenom has his heart set on signing with Adidas. Sonny refuses to give up. This news motivates Sonny to travel to the Tar Heel state and hopefully sway Jordan's parents Delores (Viola Davis) and James (Julius Tennon), into a meeting with Nike.
In a nutshell, that's the plot of Air. While we know how the story ultimately ends, Affleck's vision succeeds in the way he executes the story. Affleck pays pristine attention to the details of the time period with magazine covers, stock footage, and a fantastic soundtrack. Moreover, he gives everyone a chance to shine in the cast. Matt Damon, Marlon Wayna, and Viola Davis all deliver three of the most memorable monologues I've heard on screen in 2023. While Affleck, Bateman, and Messina have never been better.
Most surprising in the film is Chris Tucker as Howard White, who becomes Jordan's right hand at Nike. Tucker has only done two other movies outside of the Rush Hour films since 1998. He displayed a commendable flair for drama and will hopefully do more dramatic work. Finally, I want to tell viewers that the movie isn't a White Savior story. Outside of Howard White and Jordan's mother, the four men who made the Jordan shoe successful were all white guys.
Instead, the movie focuses on the people who were instrumental in the shoe's success, such as the designers, marketers, and executives. It also emphasizes the importance of the team that worked together to make the shoe a success rather than singling out one individual. Additionally, while there is a Jordan character in the film, he's wisely in the background.
Air easily earns a spot on my year's ten best.
Final Grade: A
Air opens in theaters tommorow Wednesday, April 5th