I fell in love with basketball in third grade, and Michael Jordan’s exploits with the Chicago Bulls had a lot to do with it. Not having been able to afford Air Jordans in my youth, I recovered to a ridiculous degree as an adult. The movie Air, which is about how Nike convinced Jordan to wear their shoes, seems to have been made for me and my kind. However, what he says goes far beyond basketball and sneakers.
First there is Sonny Vaccaro, a basketball savant hired by Nike to find recruits who could help the Oregon outfitter compete with rivals Adidas and Converse. Matt Damon aptly plays this somewhat extinguished man whose fire is suddenly rekindled when he realizes that Michael Jordan is a unique talent. Persuading him to choose his employer then becomes his reason for living.
Sonny not only has to convince Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Ben Affleck, who seems to play by his image: often grumpy and anxious, sometimes driven and zen), but also Jordan’s parents. The legendary athlete asked that Viola Davis play his mother. He was not mistaken, because the Oscar-winning actress excels in the role of this calm, but determined woman.
Without stealing a scene, Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker add humor and humanity to their roles as Nike employees. Chris Messina, who plays Agent David Falk, manages to make us smile precisely with his blatant lack of humanity. Even if he is sometimes excessively angry, the actor we saw in Argo – also by Ben Affleck – gives relief to a film that does not have much.
Affleck’s direction is particularly monotonous, while the subject certainly allowed for more audacity. The versatile artist roughly outlines that his story takes place in the 1980s, but that’s it. Repeating shots showing fashion, food (read junk food), technology, stars, athletes and brands of the time, in addition to music from the same years, seems to us a rather simple and economical way – even cheap – to infuse style and color. The movie Tetris, seen last week, and the Winning Time series, which also deals with basketball, seemed to us more clever in their way of depicting the same decade.
Our expectations of Air weren’t the same as most moviegoers, and while seeing more basketball and sneakers would have made us happy, we would have been more than happy with a bit more vibrancy and originality to tell this very inspiring story.