Describing AIR, a feature length movie about a sports shoe, as thoroughly entertaining may sound surprising.
However, when that movie is about Nike’s development of the Air Jordan shoe perhaps it isn’t so surprising.
And given the movie’s star-studded cast includes Matt Damon, Viola Davis and Ben Affleck at the top of their game then there’s no surprise at all.
Set in 1984, AIR follows the efforts of scout Sonny Vaccaro (Damon), who works in Nike’s basketball division, to sign then rookie Michael Jordan, the third pick in that year’s National Basketball draft.
The pressure is on as the basketball division is struggling and facing the axe due to poor sales. With a budget of $250,000 and the top players already expressing interest in other brands, including Jordan whose first choice is Adidas, the consensus is the division should target players further down the draft list.
However, Sonny is convinced Jordan should be their man and believes Nike should create a shoe around him. AIR shows how he achieves this.
Central to his success is his relationship with Jordan’s mother Deloris (Davis).
Remembering what his co-worker Howard White (Chris Tucker) told him about the power of mothers of young sportspeople and after Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) shuts him down, Sonny takes one of the biggest risks in his career. He drives to the Jordan family home to talk to Deloris and Michael’s father James (Julius Tennon) in person. The reaction of Falk to this move provides some of AIR’s more humorous moments thanks to the rather fruity language used in their interaction (explaining in part the movie’s classification).
However, as a result of Sonny’s gamble and the connection he forges with Deloris, the family agrees to at least consider Nike.
Sonny then needs to convince his boss, the highly-strung, philosophy-spouting Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) to support his plan for Jordan.
When news comes through Friday afternoon that a meeting has been set for Monday Sonny, marketing manager Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Nike shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) spend the weekend constructing the shoe and designing a marketing and sales push without knowing for sure if they’ll get the green light from Knight.
As history shows that green light came and Jordan agreed to join Nike with an added financial clause (as explained by another tremendous scene between Damon and Davis) which revolutionised how athletes were paid by sporting companies.
While the ending of AIR is no surprise, director Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery still manage to create tension and uncertainty thanks to the dialogue and the brilliant acting performances of all the cast members. All are truly believable in their roles and their interactions are a delight to watch, especially in the movie’s frequent humorous scenes.
Also delightful for those of us of a certain age, are the music, advertising and film clips from 1984 which are used to show something of life in America at that time.
Interestingly Michael Jordan isn’t a feature of the movie, we only ever see him in the background and never see his face.
This isn’t surprising given AIR isn’t about Jordan’s great basketball career. It’s a movie that explains how Jordan and Nike came together and spotlights the people behind the deal. It’s about Deloris Jordan who truly believed in Michael’s talent and was determined to get the best deal for him and Sonny Vaccaro who was also a great believer in Jordan’s abilities.
AIR opens in cinemas on April 5.
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