Now that we are into the beginning of the blockbuster season, we have a lot to choose from. Super Mario, John Wick, Adonis Creed, Ghostface, and a Dungeons and Dragons party are all vying for our attention. Would you believe me if I told you your best option is none of those, but instead Air – a movie about a shoe? Not just any shoe though. Air Jordan shoes.
You’re probably wondering how it’s possible to spend two hours on a historical footnote without putting an audience to sleep. Step one is pick a footnote related to arguably the most famous athlete in history (Michael Jordan). Step two is spice up that footnote with some snappy dialogue and good pacing. Step three is write a screenplay that adds a bit of suspense without changing the real story too much. Step four is cast some A-list actors that have done this type of movie before. Step five is sit back, kick your feet up, and enjoy the show.
Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) works in the basketball apparel division of Nike in 1984. At the time, Nike was mostly known for running shoes and was running a very distant third to Adidas and Converse in the basketball shoes world. Sonny’s main role is to identify up-and-coming rookies and convince them to sign endorsement deals for shoes. As a basketball savant, Sonny travels to high schools and colleges as a kind of scout, while also digesting countless hours of film.
After a frustrating spit-balling meeting at the office trying to decide which three players to split a measly two hundred fifty thousand on, Sonny goes home to a night of microwave dinner and more film. While watching footage of the 1982 NCAA championship, he realizes how truly different and remarkable is Michael Jordan. The next morning, Sonny tracks down his boss, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), pitching him the idea of spending the entire budget to sign Jordan. Remember, this isn’t the mythical Jordan of the 1990s, it’s the rookie Jordan drafted third in 1984, after second pick Sam Bowie.
The film kicks into high gear at this point. Not only does Sonny have to convince Rob, but he must also convince his colleague Howard White (Chris Tucker), Nike’s CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina), Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis), and, of course, Jordan himself. We follow Sonny on calls and cross-country trips as he tries to sell the idea to each of these people, Sonny does and says everything he can as the clock ticks down on Jordan’s decision. Despite the fact that we all know how history turned out, the screenplay is so well-written and performances so convincing that we believe it possible that Sonny could fail in his quest.
While it’s easy to see that Damon and Davis are the stars of the movie, there are a couple of scenes where they really shine. Damon’s best scenes are those where Sonny is conversing with Falk, first trying to get a meeting with Jordan, then another where Falk is livid at Sonny for going around him to talk to Deloris. Davis’s best scenes are those where she is talking with Sonny, each time putting Sonny in his place and on the defensive. As good an actor as Damon is, Davis’ poise and delivery is so good it pushes Damon to step up his game even more.
In addition to Air being a highly engrossing film, it managed to teach me a little history while enticing me to do more research on the topic. I now know about the NBA’s previous rules for shoe color, potential fines for wearing “illegal” shoes, the location of Nike’s headquarters, that Deloris was instrumental in orchestrating Jordan’s then-present and future worth, and that even then Nike’s reputation regarding labor was suspect. It’s the kind of movie that I would definitely walk into again.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, including for those shoes.