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Air review: Matt Damon and Viola Davis excel as the pioneers of sports marketing and Air Jordan

The Ben Affleck directorial offers insight into Nike’s path-breaking sponsorship deal with Michael Jordan

Air review: Matt Damon and Viola Davis excel as the pioneers of sports marketing and Air Jordan

Last Updated: 02.35 PM, Feb 26, 2024


Story: In the year 1984 sports equipment manufacturer Nike decide to shut down their basketball shoes division due to poor sales. As a last-ditch attempt to revive the branch, Rob Strasser and Nike CEO Phil Knight ask Sonny Vaccaro to find a generational basketball talent to sign for the company. Sonny recommends an 18-year-old rookie named Michael Jordan, who is unfortunately determined on signing for German giants Adidas.


Review: The challenge for filmmakers creating fact-based drama is finding the balance between real events and the dramatisation of real events. Director Ben Affleck was faced with an additional challenge as a result of the plot barely featuring a handful of moments to dramatise. However, Alex Convery’s engrossing screenplay keeps the audience hooked to a story that embodies the ‘American dream’. Matt Damon and Viola Davis’ performance further elevates the screenplay and is pivotal to Affleck delivering yet another directorial master class after Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo.


Affleck also stars in the film as Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, but it was Matt Damon’s turn as Sonny Vaccaro that carries the weight of the film. Damon is able to perfectly capture the charisma, knowledge, and desperation of Sonny as he attempts to do the impossible – to sign Michael Jordan, one of the hottest young talents in basketball. Through Damon’s character, the narrative gives audiences a bit of insight into how corporate America functions when it comes to sports marketing. And it also highlights how Nike went from being an afterthought in basketball shoes to becoming the most dominant brand in the NBA. One might even argue that the film is an elaborate marketing campaign for Nike, considering the narrative insinuates that Adidas founder Adolf "Adi" Dassler may have had ties to the Nazis.


While the film does place Nike on a holier-than-thou pedestal, it refrains from glorifying corporate America. It also highlights how athletes were denied revenue from the merchandise bearing their name and/or likeness. And it is also remarkable how Jordan’s mother Deloris played a vital role in revolutionising sports marketing and sponsorships. In hindsight, athletes like Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo may have to thank Deloris Jordan and Sonny Vaccaro for the wealth they have amassed over the past two decades. The outstanding Viola Davis slips into the role of Deloris with aplomb and delivers yet another excellent performance. Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, and Chris Messina also deserve praise for their performances in supporting roles.


The film offers just the right amount of drama, humour, and intrigue to keep one invested. And in terms of the production design, the 80s aesthetic has been flawlessly captured by the filmmakers — the music, the technology, the cars, and the clothing have been recreated to near perfection. It is ultimately a ‘feel-good film’ featuring a star-studded ensemble.


Verdict: Ben Affleck has been very vocal about his personal struggles after he stepped away from the role of Batman, as well as directing his solo Batman film. He has made a triumphant return as a director with Air, nearly seven years after 2016’s Live by Night. The film may not be as gripping as some of his other films such as Argo or Gone Baby Gone, and definitely a change of pace from Affleck's previous works, but it is a compelling examination of the individuals who reshaped sports marketing.


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