Real life BFFs Matt Damon and Ben Affleck - counting their new film "Air" - have been in a total of nine films together. Mostly though, people bring up their Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting" as the definitive Damon/Affleck film, a movie that landed in theaters in 1997, over 25 years ago.
I'm not sure if "Air" will still be lingering this coming Oscar season, but it's definitely another crowd-pleasing gem from Ben Affleck the director, who has shown to be a real force behind the camera even more so than in front of it.
"Air" is based on the true story of how the Nike shoe company was able to land an under-rated and under-appreciated rookie basketball player against all odds. Perhaps you've heard of him. Michael Jordan? The shoe aptly titled the "Air Jordan" was made especially for him, and Nike had hoped to make about 3 million dollars over the first three years. The shoe made over 126 million in its first year alone.
Michael Jordan - the greatest NBA basketball player of all-time - doesn't quite appear in "Air," despite this being a story that swooshes all around him. Instead this is the story told from the perspective of Nike, particularly a Nike exec by the name of Sonny Vaccaro (Damon).
Sonny used unorthodox methods and put his career on the line in convincing Nike Founder and CEO, Phil Knight (Affleck), to put their entire yearly budget toward signing Jordan. But in order to win over Jordan - who wanted nothing to do with the small, unhip Nike company...a company which usually lost out to rivals Converse and Adidas - Vaccaro had to convince Jordan's business-minded mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), that it was the right move for her son. Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Marlon Wayans and Matthew Maher round-out the strong supporting cast.
"Air" moves at a brisk pace and focuses on the incredulous task that Vaccaro had in front of him. It puts into perspective how crazy it was that the Air Jordan ever was what it was, and how truly special the rise of Nike was in the industry. Of course this movie feels like a two-hour long Nike commercial - there are no mentions of child labor or Chinese factories, for example - but it works because it is a narrowly-focused story, told from the point-of-view of Sonny Vaccaro. This is not an all-encompassing like at the rise of Nike, just one man's mission to land a client that should have been well outside of his reach.
The movie sports an absolutely KILLER 1980s soundtrack, even if the movie itself pounds home a little bit too hard the fact that it is taking place in the 1980s. Like, I promise kids, not everyone who lived in the 80s made constant references to Rocky Balboa, Mr. T and Mr. Miyagi. And yes, payphones existed but were not crucial to every day life.
Damon is a great actor and his on-screen chemistry with Affleck is palpable. Affleck's scenery-chewing Phil Knight ends up being a great companion to Damon's more reserved and pragmatic Vaccaro. The best scenes are when these two are on-screen together, but the others - especially Bateman and Davis - really fill in the gaps.
We know the outcome before this one begins, but the journey of "Air" crackles with energy, fun and reverence for its subject. It's sad to realize that the legendary Michael Jordan may only be known to a younger generation as "the crying meme guy" and not the game-changing icon that he was. But like every one of the all-time greats, he had incredible support along the way, and this is Deloris's story and triumph just as much as it is Michael's.
"Air" feels rushed at times, but covers a lot of ground. It shows how great athletes can not only revolutionize the sport they play in, but the culture itself. Everybody in the 1980s wanted to "Be Like Mike," and "Air" does a good job of tapping into that excitement, and leaves us all with a little hop in our step.
Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes.
Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans.
Directed by Ben Affleck ("Live by Night," "Argo," "The Town," "Gone Baby Gone").
"Air" is in theaters on Wednesday, April 5th, 2023.
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