Directed by Ben Affleck (“Argo”), the new Amazon Studios movie “Air” is a comedic drama about the true story of Nike’s basketball shoe line. Between its star-studded cast and the memorable production, the film mirrors the exhilarating feeling of watching a buzzer-beater shot in a high-stakes basketball game.
Set in the 1980s, the film focuses on Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) as he risks his job to try and save Nike’s basketball division. Seeing the potential in rookie Michael Jordan, he tries to sway Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis) to convince her son to sign a shoe deal with Nike for the now-iconic Air Jordan line.
The heart of the film lies in the award-worthy acting of Damon and Davis. As Vaccaro, Damon illustrates his character’s dedication to his job, which plays well off the protection and strength Davis highlights in Deloris. While the story’s outcome is known from the start, the tense, volatile interactions of the two main characters keep the audience entranced regardless.
Although Damon and Davis are the anchors of the film, “Air” also features an ensemble cast who bring a variety of moods. As Nike’s vice president of marketing Rob Strasser, Jason Bateman brings deadpan comedy to the film and plays well off of Damon. Alongside Damon and Bateman, Chris Tucker plays Nike executive Howard White, whose excitement helps the team draw Jordan in. Additionally, Affleck comes out of the director’s chair as Nike CEO Phil Knight, an unconventional leader whose quirks are captured by the actor-director.
While the main ensemble cast might be what initially draws viewers, the smaller performances of the supporting characters are just as strong and help the cast feel alive. Matthew Maher captures the dedication and passion of Nike shoe designer Peter Moore, who created the Air Jordan shoe. As Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk, Chris Messina portrays a hateable embodiment of the cutthroat world of sports management.
The strong sense of style that production designer François Audouy (“Ford v Ferrari”) creates supports the cast throughout the film. When the camera passes through Nike’s headquarters, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the boxy computers, shag carpet and pops of color that all feel nostalgic without being tacky. Additionally, the characters’ wardrobes look like they came right out of a vintage store, like Damon’s colorful polos and Affleck’s blue-and-pink tracksuit.
Also setting the scene is the soundtrack, consisting of both licensed music curated by Andrea von Foerster (“Yellowstone”) and a score by Paul Haslinger (“Fear the Walking Dead”). To cement the ‘80s feeling, the movie opens with a montage set to “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Also featured are a variety of genres, from “Blister in the Sun” by the rock band Violent Femmes to “My Adidas” by hip-hop trio Run-D.M.C. — a musical testament to Nike’s underdog status.
Keeping the pace of the movie is the camera work of the legendary Robert Richardson (“Kill Bill: Vol. I,” “Inglourious Basterds”) and editing by William Goldenberg (“Argo,” “The Imitation Game”). With plenty of moving camera shots and constant quick cuts, the pacing of the film is as fast and engaging as the sport of basketball itself.
While much of “Air” is a slam dunk, there is an occasional weak link in the script. For most of the movie, the writing is compelling and comedic, but a few interactions range from uninspired to dull.
While Damon captures the enthusiasm of Vaccaro, some of the character’s firebrand nature feels expected. Additionally, some dialogue has a dude-bro feeling, which is out of place with the rest of the film’s dynamic.
By the time the credits roll, however, any faults of the script are eclipsed, and only the stellar performance of the ensemble cast remains. While some sports films fall flat and are quickly forgotten, “Air” captures the legacy of Michael Jordan and is as memorable as the icon himself.