Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Air - Review


Professional sports and its superhuman athletes have long been the focus of Hollywood’s eye. From the underdog stories, to the feats of legends, the movie machine has done it all to varying degrees of success. However, Air represents a different angle to the view of sports: the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of endorsements. And, despite what it sounds like, it’s a pretty solid and fascinating watch.

Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) and Nike pursue basketball rookie Michael Jordan, creating a partnership that revolutionizes the world of sports and contemporary culture.

See? Even the synopsis sounds like an attempt to capitalize on the fascination around the basketball legend, but the result is anything but that. While the aura of MJ permeates throughout, the actual absence of him as a character ensures that this doesn’t become a worship of how great he is just for being him. Instead, the story focuses on less fungible human values like grit, love and competitiveness. 

Writer Alex Convery and director Ben Affleck find a nice spot on the line between drama and comedy. There’s a balance that relies heavily on the delivery of said comedy rather than depending on the writing itself. And when you get people like Matt Damon playing the dejected but quick-witted Sonny Vaccaro, it’s going to come pretty naturally as well. 

Damon isn’t alone, though his character often feels that way, and is surrounded by other pretty memorable performances. Affleck himself plays founder Phil Knight, whose deadpan interactions with Damon’s Vaccaro are a highlight to say the least. You also get Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman to fill in some other Nike suits, adding their distinct timing and brilliance to the film. But other M.V.P, perhaps sharing the crown with Damon, is Viola Davis. In a modulated, minimalist performance as Jordan’s mother Deloris, Davis helps to deepen the story beyond the business side of things and show just how in control she is of her son’s ascendence to stardom. 

It is sometimes easy to forget how good a director can be if they miss or take a break for a while. It’s been seven years since Affleck’s last directorial outing, and eleven since his last good one, but Air is a pretty good reminder of his talents. Affleck handles the stories many parts gracefully, keeping everything rolling at a pace that isn’t too fast but doesn’t dawdle either. The final film thus becomes a perhaps overly simplified version of events, but an enjoyable and sometimes touching one. 

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