When it comes to biopics, few are released in cinemas anymore.
Unless it’s the story of a once-in-a-lifetime musician like Elvis Presley or Freddie Mercury, those obscure, incredible, real-life stories are only retold on streaming services.
Enter Ben Affleck’s surprising take on the story of the bestselling shoe of all time.
Air tells the story of how the little known shoe company, Nike took a risk by signing NBA royalty Michael Jordan to the biggest footwear deal of all time and released the now-iconic Air Jordans.
Heading into the film I wondered how they would tell the story in a manner that wouldn’t make the audience think: ‘But we know this already?’
They did this by focusing on the four or five men at Nike who risked their careers by signing a player few people took seriously, instead of the rags-to-extreme-riches story of Jordan that every sports fan already knows.
At the time, Nike wasn’t the brand we know today, it was beaten consistently in the basketball market with players signing to rival brands Converse and Adidas.
Nike had a combined budget of $250,000 to spend between three or four players, a fraction of what its rivals were willing to spend.
Instead of investing on the three or four players, as it had in previous years, Nike’s basketball talent scout Sonny Voccaro (Matt Damon) and Nike CEO Phill Knight (Ben Affleck) took a risk in going all out on one man.
A risk that could have ruined the basketball market for Nike forever.
What makes this all so enthralling is the direction from Affleck.
I am a defender of Ben Affleck, as a director at least. He has directed some impressive films, including Best Picture-winning Argo, brilliant thrillers The Town and Gone Baby Gone, and in my opinion the most iconic of the bunch, Good Will Hunting.
Say what you will about his performances in Pearl Harbour or Daredevil, and the less we say about Gigli the better, but he has always brought his A-game behind the camera.
He elevates a script beyond what is written, reflected in the personal relationships the viewers build with the characters who are risking their careers.
The standout for me being Jason Bateman’s Rob Strasser, a Nike executive who clashes consistently with Damon’s Voccaro.
For Strasser, his joy is visiting his daughter for two hours on a Sunday and seeing her face when she receives a new pair of Nikes.
The risk of losing his job and not being able to see his daughter is too big a potential loss for the risk of signing Jordan.
Despite my raving about this film, a couple of things did cause me to drift out.
The first being the use of Michael Jordan. Don’t go into Air expecting to see a highlight reel, as you won’t get it. In fact, you don’t even see Jordan’s face.
He’s in several scenes, but Affleck purposely shoots him from behind or in the corner of the room, not revealing his face. For me, this was distracting.
I knew what they were doing, they were trying to add to the mystique of the man while also not needing to cast someone who will clearly fall short of the likeness of MJ, but when certain characters are having serious conversations and one of the people in those conversations isn’t seen, it can feel like they are talking to a wall.
The second is probably a bit of a nitpick but we don’t spend a lot of time with the NBA.
At the time, Jordan wasn’t signed to the NBA yet, but showing players like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, illustrating what Nike was trying to aspire to, could have helped break up what felt like several boardroom scenes in a row while adding a bit of sports action to a movie that is ultimately about basketball.
All that said, Air is up there with some of the best sports biopics, like Moneyball and Invictus. While I think those two movies are more re-watchable and impactful, Air is a must-see for anyone who enjoys basketball and it’s one of the better-made movies of 2023.