Air is an intriguing film that explores the fascinating story of Nike's recruitment of Michael Jordan and the creation of the iconic Air Jordan line. Directed by Ben Affleck, who also co-stars in the movie, Air delves into the realm of cultural change and the profound impact of a ubiquitous style. While the film presents a compelling narrative and showcases powerful performances, it falls short of delivering a fully satisfying experience.
One of the film's notable strengths lies in its depiction of characters whose heroism is both extraordinary and obscure. The movie centres around Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro, portrayed by Matt Damon, who recognises Jordan's immense talent and envisions the potential for greatness in him. Damon convincingly captures the essence of Sonny's character, portraying him as a basketball guru and a determined advocate for the young athlete.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of Nike's struggle to rise above its competitors, Converse and Adidas. Sonny's risky plan to concentrate all of Nike's resources on recruiting Jordan poses a significant challenge to the company. However, with the guidance of influential figures like Howard White (Chris Tucker) and George Raveling (Marlon Wayans), Sonny embarks on a mission to convince Jordan's mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), of the benefits of joining Nike.
While Air succeeds in delivering its own version of the backstory, it remains somewhat detached from the broader context of the time. The film focuses intensely on its protagonists, to the point where their achievements are diminished and their impact on society at large is sidelined. This narrow perspective detracts from the film's potential to magnify these characters and their accomplishments, reducing them to a mere success story.
The film's three primary lines of drama, revolving around Sonny's quest, Deloris's quest, and Phil Knight's (played by Ben Affleck) quest, gradually converge to form a cohesive narrative. Sonny's insight and conviction in recognising Jordan's greatness serve as a driving force behind the plot. Deloris's insistence on her son receiving a percentage of every Air Jordan shoe sale adds a layer of inspiration and principle to the story. It signifies that the athlete is not just a brand ornament but an essential contributor to the shoe's value. Moreover, it subtly raises the issue of Black athletes deserving a fair share of the wealth they generate for predominantly white-run businesses.
Affleck's direction emphasises Phil Knight's idiosyncratic temperament and his integral role in shaping Nike. However, the film's narrow focus on the masterminds behind the recruitment of Jordan neglects the broader implications of the project. Air fails to explore the perspectives of the young Black consumers the shoes are marketed to, overlooking their voices and experiences. This missed opportunity inadvertently reinforces the notion that only experts and insiders like Sonny can lead public opinion and create a phenomenon.
The excessive focus on dialogue often serves as padding rather than offering deeper insights into the characters or their experiences. The film's underwhelming exploration of the physical aspect, such as the design and development of the shoe, is a missed opportunity. Affleck's direction, while creating a visually appealing film, lacks a sense of physicality and fails to connect with the actors on a deeper level.
Despite these flaws, Air remains captivating due to its absorbing portrayal of the recruitment process. Sonny's expertise in both basketball and business shines through as he navigates the negotiations and stage manages the persuasion tactics. The film's dialogue-rich nature, resulting from the collaboration between the actors and the screenwriter, adds flair and enthusiasm to the performances. Viola Davis delivers a standout performance in her limited screen time, grounding the film with her commanding presence.
In essence, Air is an intriguing movie that sheds light on the cultural impact of Nike's recruitment of Michael Jordan and the creation of the Air Jordan line and does it well. Hell, I'm wearing the University Blue colourway of Air Jordan 1 right now as I finish writing this review.
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