New to UK and US cinemas this week is the biographical sports drama, Air. The movie – directed by and starring Ben Affleck – features a cast which includes Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, and Viola Davis, and details the creation of iconic basketball shoe brand, Air Jordan.
In the movie, the year is 1984 and US footwear specialist, Nike, is struggling financially. Sales of Nike sport shoes are trailing behind their competitors, and things aren’t looking good for the company’s future.
Desperate to turn things around, marketing head, Rob Strasser, is keen to align the brand with three basketball stars that will hopefully raise Nike’s profile and improve sales. But with money tight, and the likes of Adidas and Converse likely to snap up all the key players, it looks as if Strasser will have to settle for whichever players he can get to sign a contract.
But while this is basically business as usual for the company, fellow marketer Sonny Vaccaro thinks it is time to take a risk. After studying footage of basketball player, Michael Jordan, Vaccaro believes Jordan is where the future lies, and he comes up with an idea.
Rather than divide the annual marketing budget between three players, and market their latest shoes around this trio, Vaccaro wants to spend all the money on Jordan, and build a brand around him. With Jordan on board, Nike could produce shoes that are tailor-made for this star player, and use Jordan’s name to highlight how prestigious the brand is.
However, while Vaccaro’s idea works in principle, it is a risky move. If his plan were to fail, the company would go under and everyone would lose their jobs.
Undeterred, Vaccaro gets to work on making his plan a reality. But in order to pull it off, he has to get everyone on board, including Nike’s CEO Phil Knight, and more importantly, Michael Jordan himself.
I’m going to hold my hands up here and admit this now, I know very little about basketball. As a UK citizen, with the dribbling skills of an amoeba, and little-to-no interest in sport, basketball very rarely crosses my radar.
I do of course know Michael Jordan (not personally, you understand), and I am more than familiar with the popular line of basketball shoe known as Air Jordan. In fact, only a few weeks ago I was eyeing up a pair of Air Jordans in one of the local sports shops, while trying to decide if I was too old to pull off such fancy footwear.
For the record, I didn’t buy the Air Jordans, but I do see a pair in my future. I’m not someone who buys branded clothing, largely because I’m too poor and/or miserly for all that, but there is something about the Air Jordan brand that gets me every time and I think they’d look pretty swish on my feet.
I’m mentioning all this to make it clear that it wasn’t basketball that got me interested in seeing Jordan – nor was it the impressive cast. The reason I spent a couple of hours at my local cinema watching Jordan was because of the shoes.
I like Air Jordans, I wanted to know more about the origins of this brand, and I wanted to get an understanding about why someone who has no interest in basketball would find Air Jordan so appealing. There’s something special about Air Jordan, and I was keen to find out what.
And after sitting through two hours of Jordan, I walked away feeling like I got my answer. I also walked away happy that I had taken the time to watch the movie.
While Air isn’t the most exciting, dynamic, sports drama ever committed to film, it is a thoroughly good one. This is a movie which tells its story in a clear, concise way, with excellent performances from everyone involved, and solid direction from Ben Affleck.
Air is essentially a two-hour film about business deals and conversations. There’s no major scenes of spectacle, the majority of the film’s colour palette is beige and grey, and there’s a lot of men talking a lot of shop.
On paper, it doesn’t sound very cool, does it? No – and it could easily be dismissed as something rather dull, with limited appeal.
Yet, Air is really very interesting. The small scale nature of the picture, and its limited setting, help draw the audience in, while the film’s themes which centre around aspirations and values, become the key driving force behind the story.
This isn’t just a bio-pic about a shoe, it is a movie about believing in something bigger, and having the courage to chase dreams. In essence, Air is about looking beyond present limitations, to create a future which is more prosperous and hopefully more integral.
Matt Damon takes on the lead role of Sonny Vaccaro in Air, and he brings a down-to-Earth charm to the role. He slips into this part with ease, and creates a character who audiences can get behind.
However, while Damon is the main star of the story, Air is very much an ensemble piece, which draws a great deal of its strength from all of its cast. Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, and Chris Tucker, all bring something to the movie – as does Ben Affleck, who not only calls the shots from the director’s chair, but also plays the part of Nike CEO Phil Knight.
This ensemble keeps the film trucking along nicely, and when combined with a strong script from writer Alex Convery, as well as plenty of ‘80s iconography, Air hits just right. This is one of those films that just seems to work from start to finish, and tells exactly the story it needs to tell.
The only negative thing I will say about Air is that it doesn’t feel like it is quite the right fit for the cinema. Due to the limited locations, tight cast, and the small scale of the story, this movie feels like it would be better suited for streaming.
Ironically, the movie was originally intended to go direct-to-Amazon, but was given a last-minute cinema release due to positive test screenings. And while I don’t begrudge the film its theatrical release, I do feel its original destination would be more in-line with the type of movie it is.
But whether you opt to catch this one in cinemas, or you wait for Air’s streaming debut on Amazon, this is a solid sports drama. It does what it says on the tin, but it does it rather well and that’s perfectly fine with me.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review on It’s A Stampede!. For more reviews, check out the recommended reads below.
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