- Colin Fraser
TWO AND A HALF STARS A shoe company wants to win the endorsement of a rising basketball player, a young man who is much more interested in what the opposition has to offer.
DRAMA US English #AIRMOVIE
Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
It was inevitable that corporate citizens would have their stories told under the guise of a true-story biopic. It’s not a recent development but it is one that’s enjoying a resurgent popularity: think McDonalds and THE FOUNDER, Gameboy and TETRIS and now Michael Jordan’s partnership with Nike. These are more than mere product alignment per THE LEGO MOVIE or PAW PATROL; this is where we get to learn why their product has a special place in our lives, and who put it there. It’s meaningful. And so AIR reveals the story about the man behind the man behind shoes but, as is the way of corp-o-pic, it’s really the story of the brand behind the man behind the man behind the shoes. In fact, it’s only ever about about the brand.
Jump back to the 1980s (we know this from the opening montage, kind of fun, kind of cheesy) when poor old Nike was only a billion dollar company with no presence in basketball. Languishing behind Converse and Adidas, one pudgy brand-man, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), pushed hard to gamble his division on another man, Michael Jordan. If he could get the upcoming star to wear their shoe and not the opposition’s, happy days. First he had to convince the company led by the aphorism spouting Buddhist Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), then Jordan, then, most importantly, Jordan’s mother and de-facto manger (Viola Davis). Get it wrong and Vaccaro, his colleagues and a good chunk of Nike could kiss basketball goodbye.
But of course he got it right. The Air Jordan is now the stuff of history as is the slam-dunk deal, the upward trajectory of Nike and the phenomenal sums of money involved. But there’s also the story of equity and philanthropy that came of it all. These are the genuinely interesting parts of the film and if AIR was focussed here, we’d have a much more interesting movie. But too much of it is in awe of a boot that, when all said and done, is just a little bit more red than most. Cue golden light, golden product, golden boy, brand alignment and an endless parade of establishing shots outside Nike HQ, inside Nike HQ, adjacent to Nike HQ and, well, you get the picture.
It would be unfair to say that AIR is simply an overlong ad for Nike - it’s not (entirely). The story of Vaccaro’s determination and the wily deal struck with Jordan’s mother is compelling but it’s also rather linear and, of itself, unable to sustain a feature narrative. Thus Affleck (he sits on both sides of the camera) fleshes out the film with layers of period cool (assuming the 80’s is your touch point for cool), snappy dialogue and less snappy fashion. It’s entertaining enough but not enough to dislodge a corporate veneer that lingers in every scene and keeps the ‘real’ world just out of reach. Unless you’re a serious fan of Jordan, it leaves you wanting more and AIR alone doesn’t satisfy that hunger.