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Air (R) ★★★★

By April 16, 2023May 1st, 2023Backstage Pass

Ben Affleck’s “Air” is a complete delight from start to dramatic history-making finish—in fact, it’s the best movie I’ve seen yet in 2023! It’s the story of super-star basketball player Michael Jordan and the beginnings of his iconic Nike shoe, with a setting of 1984. Following Affleck’s film career since his and Matt Damon’s Academy Award-winning “Good Will Hunting” has been a delight, especially when they were trying to get funding for their script. In a meeting with Academy Award winner Robin Williams, he looked at them both and said, “This all sounds great; now, where are your dads?” Yes, they were fresh out of college. Perhaps that’s why Affleck actually took the time to read young un-proven screenwriter Alex Convey’s “Air” script.

For those of us fortunate enough to live within an hour’s radius of the Chicago Bulls stadium, most could attend games and see Jordan fly through the air—as he did in many of the games he played hence the name ‘air.’ My daughter performed during halftimes on the official pom squad Jr. Luvable’s coached by the Bull’s Loveable cheerleaders for three consecutive years; all parents received two sets of tickets during the season. Our family and many families attended Bulls games; it was an exhilarating time, to say the least. Growing up near Chicago, screenplay writer Convey also remembered those winning seasons.

What makes “Air” so great is the entertaining performances by all the cast, although especially Matt Damen’s pouncy talent-scouting wizard Sonny Vaccaro, who knows the game of college and NBA basketball players like the back of his hand. A gambler himself, he’s willing to go all in on an unknown Michael Jordan, who he sees as the next big star.

Ben Affleck’s role as the laid-back, Zen-practicing Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, is spot-on. He and Vaccaro’s scenes are the film’s best, they both argue all sides, yet Vaccaro is dug in and uses his gut to persuade Knight to sign Jordon, even going so far as to pay a personal visit to his mother, Deloris Jordon played by the ever-talented Viola Davis. It’s made clear in the film that an uninvited visit to a player’s family is frowned upon; again, Vaccaro’s persistence is front and center. Even though Deloris Jordon scolds him for the intrusion, he doesn’t stop wooing her with his future plan for her son, and what a plan that turned out to be.

Vaccaro debates almost everyone in the film, although the craziest scenes are with Jordan’s foul-mouthed agent, David Falk (Chris Messina). His ranting and slamming of the phone are overdramatic, yet, they work, as Vaccaro laughs it off with a twinkle in his eye. Chris Tucker, as the motormouthed Howard White, now the Senior Vice President of Brand Jordan at Nike, had an advantage in playing his part; he and White are friends. It has been noted that Tucker also wrote his part of White using his own words; he’s also incredible after a seven-year hiatus from acting in films. Lastly, Jason Bateman, the divorced single parent dad, and Nike’s marketing director, Rob Strasser, offers a quiet yet affecting performance as he has so much at stake if the company fails.

The best advice is that it’s better not to know too much about the script and scenes as I loved viewing the film without knowing, and believe me, the artistic development of the Nike Air Jordon shoe is impressive. My six-year-old son and his one-year-old brother received a pair of Air Jordan shoes for Christmas; in 1985, the ‘Baby Jordons’ my son received are the exact pair in the Michael Jordon Museum in the Nike store in Chicago. Nike released the first Air Jordan shoe in 1984, designed by Peter Moore, played by the fantastic Matthew Maher.

The Bottom-line: “Air” recreates history in a dramatic, factual, and nail-biting way. The performances by all the cast are exceptional, be sure to pay close attention to Matt Damon’s plea to the Jordan family near the end of the film, as he gives an Oscar award-worthy performance.

“Air” opened April 5, the day I screened it, and will stream on Amazon Prime in the future, at this time, no date has been set.

Sarah Knight Adamson© April 15, 2023