Film review: Air

When struggling sneakers manufacturer Nike meets Michael Jordan, the billion-dollar basketball world explodes.

Directed by and starring Ben Affleck as Phil Knight, the co-founder and CEO of (then) failing Nike brand. Along with his long-term friend and colleague Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s talent scout… we are given the astonishing true story of how the sports industry pivoted around the then relatively unknown basketball rookie Michael Jordan. Making him one of the highest paid sports stars in the world to this day and propelled Nike to stratospheric levels of international acclaim and income.

Struggling against the then bigger branded and more alluring footwear giants Adidas and Converse, Nike (pronounced NYKEY) were the underdogs of their arena before signing Michael Jordan. With a diminishing market share in the sneaker industry and on the verge of bankruptcy, Sonny Vaccaro knows he must do something drastic to turn the tide and prevent their ultimate failure and collapse with a contract size never seen before in the basketball world.

Set in 1984, AIR is a well-crafted film that takes us on a thrilling behind-the-scenes ride of uncertainty through to the ultimate well-known public triumph of the ‘Nike Air’ brand, without the feeling of constantly being fed facts. With Damon’s Sonny character driving the narrative, he is perfectly versed at keeping us engaged in the story without being overbearing. Also starring Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, who played a major role in establishing Nike’s international presence and a re-discovered Chris Tucker as Howard White, the ‘Air Jordan’ brand ambassador. Both deliver a great performance, however its Viola Davis who gives a quietly commanding performance, that really stands out. She was even requested by Michael Jordan himself to play his mother.


Interestingly, the film about titan of a sportsman does not have dialogue with him directly. This can appear jarring if you are expecting a major player to be front and centre. He most certainly is not and was never intended to be. Instead, it is based around the famous footwear itself and its brilliant rule breaking designer Peter Moore, played by Matthew Maher. The film flows all the more smoothly because of this.
Originally intended to be released solely via Prime Video – who helped fund the production – the initial screen testing gave very favourable results which turned into theatrical release around the world.

The dialogue between Affleck and Damon is as subtle but masterful as ever. The acting is purposeful instead of forced and the cinematography is very ‘of the decade’, with muted colours that transport us back to the music and style we come to expect from this era. With my pre-release cinema screening, we also had security to prevent early leaked footage that gave an AIR a greater depth and secrecy.

When a brand as large as Nike is brought to the screen with the big names of Bateman, with Damon & Affleck in production, the film should be enjoyable yet insightful, and this one most certainly is. The running time was spot on, and the end of film facts are most certainly worth the wait.

Interestingly, at time of writing, a pair of game worn Air Jordan XIII Breds sneakers from his famous “Last Dance” season in 1998 (black & reds) sold for more than $2.2million at Sotheby’s.







Author: Piers, Maidstone Store