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Air ★★★★



Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker

Release: 5th April 2023

Ben Affleck’s career as a director has earned him high praise and the Oscar for Best Picture for Argo. Surprisingly he has only made two films since 2016’s Live By Night and now Air, which sees him reunite with his frequent co-star and writer Matt Damon. Air dramatises the events around Nike’s struggling Basketball division in 1984, attempting to sign a rookie Michael Jordan to turn around the brand’s fortunes amid competition from Converse and Adidas.

While the story of Michael Jordan is well known worldwide, and Air Jordan shoes bring in huge revenue, the effort to sign his fledgling star may not be quite so in the public domain. We don’t see Michael himself with Air essentially following Nike employees Sonny Vacarro (Damon), Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Howard White (Chris Tucker) operating under CEO Phil Knight (Affleck). Viola Davis is Jordan’s stern and protective mother, Deloris.

Much like Moneyball or Ford v Ferrari, Air will play well both for fans of the sport and more casual viewers, with the action taking place in boardrooms rather than on the Basketball court. It’s a story of determination and not giving up even when you seem like you don’t have a chance in hell. Sonny’s enthusiasm and energy are infectious, with Damon in one of his best roles in recent years, contrasted by Bateman’s more mellow and grounded Rob. Whether or not it was the right decision to not include Michael more prominently may split fans, but this does allow the film to focus heavily on the inner workings of Nike and its basketball business.

As with The Town and Argo especially, Affleck shows his chops as a director, and hopefully, we don’t have another seven-year wait for another film from him. Air is energetic and funny and finds a perfect tone for its all-American story. Alex Convery’s script is full of sharp, witty dialogue. When delivered by the likes of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, it frequently lands with a monologue from Sonny late on, sure to resonate with audiences.

It’s clear this is set in the mid-80s from the opening sounds of Dire Strait’s Money For Nothing and a montage of key cultural moments; the needle drops might be cheesy at times – Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time to name but two. It is also filled with pop culture references.

Air might play like a by-the-numbers underdog tale, but it has an irresistible feel-good energy led by its cast, all of whom are fine. Like other films, this isn’t really about Basketball and more the business of it, with much of the action taking place in meetings but it is nonetheless riveting. Once again, Ben Affleck proves he is more than a match for some of the best directors out there. Of course, this is one take on the story of Michael Jordan’s rise to fame and, at 110 minutes, barely gets into it, and so The Last Dance and One Man and His Shoes may well prove more informative viewing but for sheer entertainment and feel good factor Air is quite the feat.

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