Air Review

1984. While sports-shoe giants Converse and Adidas dominate the world of basketball, scrappy upstart Nike struggles to make an impact. That is, until brash executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) has an idea, to woo just one player: up-and-coming court star Michael Jordan (Damian Delano Young).

by Nick De Semlyen |
Published on
Release Date:

24 Mar 2023

Original Title:


If it’s successful, Air might just prove to be the first in a wave of films about shoes. Can we expect a feature explaining how Hush Puppies got their name? A Cole Haan origin story, starring Cole Hauser? ‘Crocs: The Movie’? It’s easy to joke, but Ben Affleck’s Nike thriller pulls off a pretty darn difficult task: making you care about how a pair of basketball shoes came to exist. Even if it doesn’t hit the heights of Affleck’s best directing work (Argo, The Town), it’s still gripping, deftly finding the human dramas pulsing throughout what is, on the surface, a pretty niche subject.


The cast-list juices up the proposition, not least its Affleck/Matt Damon reunion — the second in recent years, after 2021’s The Last Duel. In that movie, Damon knelt before his old friend; in this one, their relationship is more fractious, and all the better for it. Affleck has cast himself in a zesty supporting role, as billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight, entertainingly playing him as an aphorism-spouting Buddhist who frets about his cherry-coloured sports car.

It's a crowd-pleaser, powered by kicky dialogue – but Air has a bit of a Michael Jordan problem.

Knight’s love of jogging is not shared by Damon’s exec Sonny Vaccaro, the movie’s main character, a doughy sharpshooter who does his best brainstorming while watching two TVs at the same time. Around them is a crackerjack ensemble: Jason Bateman as a sceptical exec, Chris Tucker (in his first film role for seven years) as a fast-talking marketing wonk, and especially Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris, whom Vaccaro needs to woo if he’s going to fulfil his hoop dream and make the deal of a lifetime.

It's a crowd-pleaser, powered by kicky dialogue, tossed out at speed by its players. But Air has a bit of a Michael Jordan problem. Presumably in deference to the basketball legend, Affleck makes him an oddly invisible figure in the drama — Jordan (Damian Delano Young) gets just one word to say, and when he’s present, the film shoots and cuts around him (it’s unintentionally hilarious when, in one crucial boardroom scene, he hastily turns his head away to study something on a wall before you can catch a proper glimpse).

The by-product of this is that Jordan becomes a strangely inconsequential presence in a film that’s all about him; a man who leaves his mother to do his talking, and who seems to have little agency of his own. Deloris, on the other hand, emerges as a tower of strength and empathy, the Jordan of the movie that you’ll come away thinking about. Even if the role is a little one-note, Davis is superb: in basketball parlance, her performance is all swish.

The film as a whole isn’t quite so swishy, sometimes feeling generic (the “Look! We’re in the 1980s!” montage that opens Air could come from a hundred other films) and occasionally falling into generic sports-movie tropes. It’s a lot of fun, way more than a film about a large company striving to make even more money should be. But it could have paid a little more heed to #3 on Nike’s famous list of ten corporate principles: “Break the rules.”

A lot more entertaining and irreverent than the film’s grandiose subtitle, “Courting A Legend”, suggests — even if it’s hardly as trailblazing as the man to whom it pays tribute.
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