The plot of Ben Affleck’s Air: approximately a dozen business meetings with varying numbers and combinations of participants lead to a big grand-finale meeting, where everything hangs in the balance. Genuinely. It’s all meetings.
And yet, it’s enthralling. The picture tells the true tale of Nike’s unlikely snagging of Michael Jordan for representation of their basketball division, along with the inception of the momentous Air Jordan shoe line. Though Nike is cast as an underdog in the shadow of rival labels, it is still – in 1984, the year in which the film is set – a huge, successful brand, and one Air takes on the unenviable task of garnering sympathy for. Through lovable characterisation, delicately placed wit and feisty ridicule of the competitors, it manages miraculously to achieve this, leaving the audience positively rooting for the billion-dollar corporation.
The movie is a series of splendid performances. Affleck shines in the role of eccentric CEO, Phil Knight, alongside his great friend and long term collaborator, Matt Damon, equally engaging as the brilliant talent scout, Sonny Vaccaro. The show is stolen, however, by Viola Davis’s absolutely outstanding portrayal of Deloris, Jordan’s mother and advocate. The scene in which Vaccaro first meets Deloris is special; it’s so charged and rich, closely shot bringing the viewer right into the encounter, two exceptional actors embodying their characters expertly to bring about a rare intensity of exchange. This is how a string of meetings can be crafted into an artistic narrative.
Jordan himself remains elusive throughout the picture, his 18-year-old image only ever being cast from behind. This ingeniously enables the genuine footage of the athlete’s life and career, intertwined into Damon’s ferociously earnest delivery of a “this is your destiny” speech, to really hit home in a way it never could have, had an actor’s appearance been already ascribed to the basketball legend.
Air is an extraordinary sports film that features – save snippets of archive footage of Jordan’s greatest moments – no sporting action at all. It’s compelling conversation after compelling conversation, gritty negotiation after gritty negotiation. The characters shine and the script is a balance of engaging sincerity and deftly incorporated quips. Air ought not be missed.
Air is released nationwide on 5th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Air here: