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Air
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Movie Critic Dave's Ratings
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3.0
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Release:
April 05, 2023
Rated:
R
Run Time:
112 min
Homepage:
Budget:
$80,000,000
Revenue:
$90,100,000
Genres
Review
By Movie Critic Dave

This year’s SXSW Film and Television Festival opened with a dark cloud of uncertainty looming over the event’s heralded Closing Night timeslot. With no major announcements made and a simple “Secret Screening” tag printed in the festival guide, rumors were swirling everywhere regarding what the mystery might be. Some were banking on the new Ari Aster title, Beau is Afraid, while others declared it would be the new Nicolas Cage Dracula film, Renfield. No matter the guess, festival-goers knew it had to be something big and exciting. Well big and exciting is just what they got with the world premiere of Ben Affleck’s ultra-retro and uber 80s true story of Nike’s daring quest to become the biggest basketball shoe in the world, Air.

 

Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, an NBA talent evaluator for Nike whose life revolves around his two greatest joys, watching basketball and betting heavy on sports and casino games. It’s a wonder how Sonny’s managed to last so long with Nike, a typecasted “running shoe” company that never chases the big fish in the NBA talent pool. But when this diehard risk taker decides it’s time for Nike’s failing basketball division to push in all their chips to sign the projected #3 pick in the 1984 NBA draft, Michael Jordan, he needs to convince everyone from ground-level coworkers to CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) to take a shot at greatness.

 

 

The beauty of Air is that you don’t need to wear Nike apparel, or love Michael Jordan, or even know how to shoot a basketball to enjoy the film. It’s simply an underdog story, and that makes it relatable on all accounts. There’s a bit of silliness in suspending disbelief and venturing back to an early 80s world where Nike, now worth almost $200 billion, was a second-rate shoe company, floundering in mediocrity and grounded in complacency. Yet, Vaccaro’s keen eye for talent recognizes the inevitable greatness in college star Michael Jordan’s game and pinpoints now as the time to strike. Yet, convincing his boss (Jason Bateman) to allocate all of their $250,000 allotment to signing Jordan, verses the usual plan of spreading that money out amongst three or four mid-level players, proves a difficult task. This gives Sonny no choice but to bring the matter directly to Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight. This prompts a tug-of-war, power play between the little guy who believes in his heart of hearts that he’s right, and a corporate entity whose decision-making must be tied to the benefit of its shareholders. This David vs. Goliath subtext helps build Air’s reliant underdog theme.

 

 

Another crowd-pleasing aspect of the film is Sonny’s quest to take matters into his own hands by circumventing the industry norms of communicating through an agent (played by Chris Messina) and taking his message directly to Jordan’s parents (Viola Davis and Julius Tennon) himself. It’s here where the audience gets antsy to see Michael on the big screen, but Affleck wisely avoids showing Jordan’s face to the viewer. He does so out of respect to his own story. Air isn’t about Michael Jordan stepping up to become the greatest basketball player of all-time. It’s about the small few who believed deeply enough in Jordan’s athletic abilities and psychological makeup to put it all on the line. Their jobs, their reputations, and their livelihoods.

 

With Air, Ben Affleck transforms a simple underdog tale into a funny and heartfelt quest for validation. The film combines a totally rad 80s soundtrack with a collection of A-List performances. Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker all shine as the Nike insiders willing to take the “big shot”, while Viola Davis astonishes as Jordan’s mother, Deloris. Ben Affleck the director (Argo, The Town, and Gone Baby Gone) has far surpassed Ben Affleck the actor, and Air is just another winning effort from the filmmaker that’s guaranteed to satisfy the masses.

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