When I first heard a movie was being made centering on the origin story of Nike's Air Jordan shoe line, my reaction was "Uh-huh. Okay." I loved my pair of Air Jordans in my youth, but the prospect of watching people negotiate the terms of a shoe deal did not exactly sound like riveting cinema to me. However, director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery remind viewers that a satisfying theatrical experience is all about the execution, and they deliver in Air.
Set in 1984, the plot follows Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon). The basketball division at Nike is struggling badly and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is considering shutting it down. Vaccaro wants to gamble the department's entire yearly budget on luring Michael Jordan, the 3rd overall pick of the NBA draft, to Nike. The pitch involves designing an entire shoe around Jordan. To win Jordan over, Vaccaro must sell his vision to Jordan's mother, Deloris (Viola Davis)
The behind-the-scenes stuff about how Vaccaro and his Nike associates make their plan come to fruition actually is interesting and the dialogue is snappy and funny. While the story may seem low-stakes, the film effectively reminds viewers that the jobs of many people depend on the success of Vaccaro's gamble.
The cast also plays an important role in the film's success. Damon, Davis, and Affleck all turn in excellent work, and they're ably supported by Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker. Another standout is Chris Messina as the temperamental sports agent David Falk.
Affleck's last directorial effort, Live By Night, was a bit of a disappointment, but Affleck has proven himself a reliable director of original, adult-oriented films (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo are all worth seeing if you haven't). Air is a good bet for grown-ups looking for a change of pace from the avalanche of sequels and superhero movies.