“Air” was directed by Ben Affleck and written by Alex Convery. Based on a true story, the film follows Nike basketball shoe salesman/scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) as he pursues a partnership with the legendary Michael Jordan.
Ben Affleck has proven to be one of the finest actor-directors working today. He knows precisely how to extract the greatest wit, heart, and energy from his actors, which is why he’s perfect for this very performance/character-driven story. Everyone is on their A-game here. Matt Damon is his usual charismatic lead, Viola Davis is powerful as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris, and Ben Affleck gives a welcome comedic turn as the perpetually nervous Nike CEO Phil Knight.
For me, Chris Messina and Jason Bateman were the real standouts. Messina’s David Falk is absolutely hysterical in his vulgarity, rage, and arrogance (especially when interacting with Damon). Think Rob Reiner as “Mad Max” from “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Jason Bateman does his usual sarcastic schtick but with a surprising amount of vulnerability, especially during one particular scene between him and Damon when discussing his estranged daughter. If “Air” becomes a major Oscars contender this upcoming Awards season (as it should), Bateman and Davis are likely to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress.
Let’s face it: no one cares about the creation of a shoe. Yet when the story is given to a talented writer, it can soar over that “so what?” factor and become a knockout film. We’ve seen this several times with Aaron Sorkin, and “Air” is the new “Moneyball” of sports movies. The key to doing this, as Sorkin and Convery both discovered, is emphasizing the characters and momentum over everything else. The pacing of “Air” is breakneck while never jeopardizing clarity or the breathing room between scenes. The two hours breeze by because of how invested the audience becomes in the characters and the timeless underdog story. It’s so easy to root for this film due to how effective the screenplay is.
The setting to “Air” is also key to its success. Affleck clearly made this as a love letter to the 1980s, as the film feels very much like an ’80s movie in its tone and, of course, catchy song choices. “Air” is absolutely immersive due to Affleck’s affection for the period and his ability to craft a proper throwback without hurling memberberries at the audience.
“Air” is a great breath of fresh air (pun not really intended) in a time when we need a good pick-me-up story like this. It’s a phenomenal crowdpleaser that feels genuine and intelligent rather than soulless or lazy. Honestly, how could anyone not love this movie?