The pitch for Air is not exactly enticing: an account of how Nike created their bestselling shoe.
You’d be forgiven for worrying that the film (produced by Amazon) would be a kind of corporate handjob from one giant conglomerate to the other. But in director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery’s hands, the story behind the ‘Air Jordan’ makes for electrifying cinema.
Part of its immediate likeability is that it finally reunites Affleck with his old pal, and longtime collaborator Matt Damon ( they didn’t share a scene in Ridley Scott’s dour The Last Duel). While Affleck plays the supporting part of Nike CEO Philip Knight, he hands Damon the lead role of Sonny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro was Nike’s marketing whizz who, in the 1980s, bet his whole career on signing a talented kid called Michael Jordan. Damon is pitch-perfect in the part of an anti-social visionary. It’s a performance that is so infectiously passionate, it’ll sweep you up regardless of whether you give a damn about basketball or not.
Affleck, on the other hand, is a lot of fun as the exasperated Knight. As a director, he keeps the storytelling lean, unfussy and gripping. Ever since he wowed with his debut Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has evolved into something like the new Clint Eastwood.
Like Eastwood, Affleck is great at allowing talented actors the space to light up the screen. Jason Bateman brings dry wit to the part of Nike exec Robby Strasser, while Viola Davis brims with quiet power in the role of Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris.
Screenwriter Convery has a terrific knack for dialogue, coming from the Aaron Sorkin school of rat-a-tat banter. Like Sorkin, though, Convery has a penchant for big dramatic speeches, which is where Hollywood’s gloss starts to become noticeable. It also falls for a rather common ‘true story’ trap of stuffing too much information at the end in the form of on-screen titles. It’s a persistent trope that generally diminishes the impact of a finale.
However, Air is such a crowd-pleasing, unabashed good time that it’s hard to be cynical about it. This is a power ballad of a movie, that slaps a grin on your face and puts a skip in your step. Pair it with Ford vs Ferrari for a dynamite Damon-starring, Dad-Movie double bill.
A hugely enjoyable piece of straightforward, crowd-pleasing storytelling. Affleck has scored a slam-dunk.