'AIR' Makes Us Want to Sign with Nike

Directed by Ben Affleck

Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Julius Tennon, Viola Davis

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

BY Marriska FernandesPublished Apr 5, 2023

There is no denying that Ben Affleck is a talented storyteller, and in his latest venture, AIR, which he directed, produced and starred in, he turns in a solid film that toes the line between comedy and drama to offer an undoubtedly entertaining slam dunk.

The film is not Michael Jordan's story, although he is involved. Instead, it's the underdog story of Nike — something that's hard to fathom today — and how they lobbied to sign Jordan, thereby changing sports marketing. It's also the story of a persistent mother who knew her son's value way before the world did and secured a good financial deal for him.

Set in 1984, Nike founder Phil Knight (Affleck) is an ambitious, passionate leader. Knight even has his company's principles — "Our business is change," and, "We're on offence. All the time" — posted on a board in his office for all to see. He lives by this ethos and is never afraid to remind his employees about this. 

At this point in Nike's history, they weren't as successful as competitors Adidas and Converse. The brand was struggling to sign NBA players to endorse their brand, but Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a Nike marketing executive, was on the cusp of changing that, and ultimately succeeded. 

When Vaccaro sees early footage of Jordan, he gets a gut feeling that this rookie from the Chicago Bulls is going to change things. In order to sign Jordan, Vaccaro has to deal with Jordan's arrogant agent David Falk (Chris Messina); some of the best scenes involve Messina and Damon in their exchanges. It's these moments that are a testament to the incredible calibre of actors Affleck has assembled, as well as the well-written script by Alex Convery. 

When he isn't able to get anywhere with Falk, Vaccaro decides to go around the agent and have a face-to-face meeting with Jordan's parents — an unconventional and unethical approach that is frowned upon by his coworkers. He drives to North Carolina to meet James R. Jordan Sr. (Julius Tennon) and Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) asking to be given a chance to officially pitch them. 

The excellent cast and character-driven and dialogue-heavy plot, complete with those big motivational speeches, are the moving pieces that make this film entertaining. Affleck draws the big laughs with his hilariously terrible wig delivering the punch lines, while Davis gives a goosebump-worthy performance with fierceness and warmth as Deloris. Even in the smaller roles, Messina, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker and Marlon Wayans steal the spotlight and leave an impression.

It's easy to root for Damon's Vaccaro — even when he's unethical in his approach, and especially when he's delivering those inspirational monologues that, in lesser hands, would have sounded corny. With Damon's delivery, even I wanted to join Nike. 

Sports fan or not, audiences will never find a dull moment in AIR.
(Warner Bros.)

Latest Coverage