The year is 1984, and Nike is a rookie on the basketball court. No top player wants anything to do with the running shoe brand. The all-stars wear Adidas or Converse, leaving Nike’s basketball division stunted. But Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s basketball guru played by Matt Damon, believes that the “third-rate” shoe brand has a chance to break through. And he’s willing to gamble the company’s entire basketball budget on one player: Michael Jordan.
Vaccaro loves to gamble. We first meet the basketball whiz at a high school game, but shortly after, he visits Las Vegas on a brief layover before returning to the office. Disgruntled by dull meetings and failing numbers, Vaccaro imagines that Nike can succeed by betting big on a single player, setting a new precedent by designing a shoe specifically branded for the player. And today, everyone knows Air Jordans.
What makes Air different from your typical sports biopic is that we never see Jordan’s face. Affleck’s ode to the greatest basketball player takes a different angle. At first glance, the film opts for feel-good capitalism invigorated by its electric cast, which includes Chris Tucker’s Howard White and Affleck’s Phil Knight, the eclectic Nike CEO. But really, this story fixates on Jordan’s family and the decision that ultimately changed how basketball players were compensated for their sponsorships. Without Viola Davis, who plays Jordan’s mother, Deloris, Air would be lukewarm. Davis delivers a performance (arguably the best in the film) that moves, transforming the sports drama into a story about a mother’s faith in her son.
Affleck’s return to the director’s chair is an exceptional success, stimulated by its script and cast. Despite an imperfect soundtrack, Air offers an endearing nostalgia that tells a pivotal story about a legend and his legacy on and off the court. R, 112 min.