April 2023 offers a pair of basketball-based productions opening in theatres. Before the
release of “Sweetwater”, opening April 14, fans can start this April double-header with Ben
Affleck’s fifth project from the director’s seat: “Air”. The film stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck,
Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis in leading roles, and debuted in American
theaters on April 5 .
The film centers around the deal that brought Michael Jordan, third pick in the 1984 NBA
Draft, under the umbrella of a struggling baseball department at Nike in a move that
would prove revolutionary to the relationships between athletes and their brand deals.
Interestingly, the film utilizes Jordan primarily in the background, with the figure of Sonny
Vaccaro (Matt Damon) taking the limelight as the plot’s driving force. Damon’s portrayal of
Vaccaro is a massive strength of the film, with the character’s passion and vision for
basketball conflicting with the risk-averse corporate bureaucracy he finds himself at the
behest of at the beginning of the film.
Another strong performance comes from Chris Messina, whose role as Jordan’s agent
provides some immensely comedic moments, such as an over-the-phone meltdown that the
actor sold himself to so completely. In fact, the film provides many moments of levity, with
the comedic powerhouses of Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman giving strong performances as
Howard White and Rob Strasser, respectively.
If one was to have a complaint with the film, it may be the commitment to avoiding any
direct portrayal of Michael Jordan himself. While it is understandable that this deliberate
choice may have been made to take the focus off of the figure of Jordan and avoid audience
distraction, the attempts to obfuscate Damian Delano’s facial features often have the
opposite effect: it was off-putting at times.
Perhaps on the other side to that coin, however, the avoidance of Michael Jordan gave
Julius Tennon and Viola Davis room to shine as Jordan’s parents. While Tennon’s screen-
time as James Jordan is limited, he is charming in the role. Davis’ Deloris Jordan is a similarly
strong portrayal and provides many entertaining scenes with Damon throughout the
movie, with their initial meeting providing a highlight. Affleck and Damon’s on-screen
chemistry is as good as one may expect, and is another highlight of the film.
The film’s portrayal of mid 80’s America will without doubt provide a dose of nostalgia to
anyone who lived through the era, from the establishing shots at the beginning of the
movie to the pure 80’s soundtrack, the setting is believable, and every scene feels lived in.
This, combined with strong performances from all involved, truly grounds the experience for
an audience and adds a lot to the immersion.
While I feel no urge to rush back out for a second viewing, Air provides an entertaining and
worthwhile watching experience. The standout performances overturn any minor nitpicks,
and Affleck’s fifth movie as a director is a strong one.