From award-winning director Ben Affleck, Air reveals the legendary partnership between then-novice Michael Jordan and Nike’s basketball division that revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This heartwarming story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team that puts everything on the line, the vision of a mother who is aware of the value of her son’s immense talent and who would become the greatest basketball phenomenon of all time.
Even if you have never touched a basketball hoop, the story of Air has every chance to attract you, because it is not only a nostalgic foray into America in 1984, but also tells the story of a contract that revolutionized the world of sports, taking away the power of corporations and giving it to athletes and their families. Alert and well-paced, Air explores an exemplary entrepreneurial mentality, showing how self-confidence and perseverance can open doors even when they stubbornly slam in your face.
It all begins in 1984, when Phil Knight (Ben Affleck, also director), the founder and CEO of Nike, is unhappy that his billion-dollar megacorporation is being outsold by Adidas and Converse. Solving this unacceptable situation must be handled by Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a basketball guru whose fine nose identifies the most valuable players that Nike could use as an image for its sports shoes. Despite the objections of the other parties involved, Sonny sets his sights on Michael Jordan, then only a promising 22-year-old athlete. But what chance does Sonny have to sign the contract when we learn that his superiors don’t like Jordan and no one in Jordan’s entourage appreciates Nike?
Probably the most surprising and interesting thing about Air is the absence of Jordan. Even though we hear his voice a few times and see his figure, the athlete practically does not appear in the film, which makes 100% sense, because Air is not about him, but about the forces around him that pushed inexorably towards the signing of a contract never seen before then. Casting an actor to play Jordan and including him more consistently in the film would have derailed this endearing story of entrepreneurship. And which actor would Ben Affleck have chosen to play the legendary Jordan? None would have been fan-pleasing, so Air does very well to avoid this pitfall entirely.
In his ninth appearance with Affleck in a film, Matt Damon catches the eye with his abrasive and caustic character, exceeded by the corporate hierarchy and the ineptitude of his superiors who force him to synchronize his activity with expectations. Surrounded by sneaker salesmen, Sonny is the only one who has a flair for basketball, hence the friction with Phil and his direct boss, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), more concerned with minimizing their risks than signing a partnership that will make history .
Of course, “if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be talked about”, we already know that Air Jordan has become an ultra-popular Nike line. But there is no better time to use the famous expression with “the journey is more important than the destination”, because Air, helped by an alert montage, explores exactly the small maneuvers made by Sonny to discourage, millimeter by millimeter, the distrust in his vision. Air is less a film about sports and more about the entrepreneurial spirit, about perseverance and overcoming obstacles, about the refusal to choose the easier path, but with less satisfaction. Air is also about honesty in business and how this honesty is mandatory for both parties involved in a contract to have similar benefits and not for one partner to “pull” it on the other.
We also liked how Alex Convery’s script (extremely confident even though he is a debutant) satirizes the corporate culture and the mentality of the petty corporatist, who wants to collect his salary month after month without making waves. Convery also shows how even the founders of large companies, revolutionaries decades ago, can become afraid of risks and innovation. Fortunately, a stubborn Sonny can get them back on track…