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‘Air’ Review: Ben Affleck’s ode to Michael Jordan is affectionate and engaging, even if it’s unconvincing

Ben Afflecks Sky operates in a respectful and highly respectful register when it comes to the subject, his family and the sport in which he earned his legacy. The film, which premiered at SXSW, chronicles Nike’s tense campaign to sign Michael Jordan, then an NBA rookie, for his first sneaker deal in 1984. That contract, which came out a year before the first Air Jordans were released to the public. sold, closed, changed Nike’s reputation and changed the way players negotiated brand deals.

Corporate legal movies and closed-door meetings are rarely anyone’s idea of ​​a good time, but there are ways to energize them. Tetris, for example, which also premiered at SXSW this year, took the genre route and turned history from a video game licensing battle into a Cold War thriller. In Sky, Affleck latches on to the sentimental and reaches for a story that recasts the Jordan-Nike deal as the story of legendary Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) who tries to kill the player’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), to win over. That direction allows Affleck, who plays Nike CEO Phil Knight in the film, to organize Sky around the broad, feel-good themes of a standard sports drama, despite no on-field action.


It comes down to

Not a slam dunk, but scores enough points.

Location: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)
Date of publication: Wednesday April 5
Form: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans
Director: am Affleck
Screenwriter: Alex Convery

Rated R, 1 hour 52 minutes

For most audiences Sky will be worth a look just for the star cast – particularly the reunion between Damon and Affleck. Their scenes possess a kinetic and intimate dynamic that approaches, but does not always match, the rest of the film. The old friends are magnetic as Sonny – who is in charge of the company’s swinging basketball division – and Phil try to take Nike to the next level. (Before Jordan’s signing, the shoe company had a measly 17 percent of the market compared to rivals Adidas and Converse.) Their conversations take place in Phil’s appropriately retro office (the production design is by François Audouy) and offer insight into how both executives tried to balance the imagination of Nike’s scrappy roots with its corporate aspirations.

The film picks up four years after Nike went public, a move that puts Phil at the behest of an omniscient board. In an early conversation, Phil reminds Sonny that he hired him to grow their basketball division, not boost it. Sonny responds by suggesting that going public was a mistake for the company’s ethos. The brash Philadelphia executive functions on a different level from his aspiring Zen boss, who believes in focus groups and methodology. Affleck plays Phil’s contradictions—the man’s simultaneous slavish devotion to the bottom line and obsession with Buddhism—as one of the film’s running gags.

Phil and Sonny’s divergent ideologies come to a head when Sonny suggests putting all of the fledgling division’s money on Michael Jordan. The boss disagrees, and he’s not the only skeptic. His colleagues Howard White (Chris Tucker), Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and George Raveling (Marlon Wayans), one of Jordan’s coaches at the 1984 Olympics, all try to dissuade him. The dynamic within this group of colleagues and friends provides most of the film’s comedic relief and also helps us deepen our understanding of Nike’s philosophy. Later joined by Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), Nike’s creative director, the film – miraculously – applies the poetic reverence usually reserved for depicting the sport in these kinds of dramas to the design process. of a shoe.

Sonny is not one to take no for an answer or ignore his instincts. After a crucial phone call with Jordan’s agent, David Falk (a hilarious Chris Messina), Sonny flies from Oregon to North Carolina to woo Jordan’s parents. Deloris (Davis) and James (Julius Tennon) prove to be a tougher crowd than Sonny expected. They are immune to his salesman charm and unfazed by his dramatic entry into their property. Deloris in particular demands a quiet respect, which Sonny gives her in awe.

Their conversations – it’s a high-profile film – mark a turnaround Sky. His questions appeal to the value Deloris places on family, honesty and the unquestionable greatness of her son. Affleck films these scenes in close-ups, intended to evoke the growing mutual appreciation between the two sides, but the screenplay (by Alex Convery) makes it hard to buy. While Deloris gets a significant amount of screen time, her character doesn’t feel developed enough to support the full weight Sky‘s dramatic ambitions. Davis gives us a sense of this woman’s inwardness through raised eyebrows, questioning looks, and the rare smile of approval, but it feels like she’s working with a skeletal figure. An argument could be made that this minimalism is a way of conveying the quiet power of Deloris, a woman who recognizes Jordan for who he is. But there’s not enough to keep her from feeling more like a composite of characters we’ve seen before than a person with specific experiences.

And those experiences are important. Sonny and Deloris are bound by a deep and unwavering faith in Jordan, but, as she suggests during conversation, his strong sense of self is a product of the lessons she taught him. It is Deloris and her son’s understanding of their worth that leads them to negotiate a contract that will give Jordan a percentage of the revenue from Air Jordan sales.

Under the sentimentality of Sky are hints of an even more compelling thread: How do you compensate people in a society organized around corporate greed? The third act of the film emphasizes and circles the notion of justice. Jordan’s contract changed the way players made money from branded deals. A comment just before the credits informs us that Sonny would play a vital role in taking on the NCAA and helping college athletes get paid for commercial use of their likeness. All of this feels prescient given Affleck’s recent venture: Last year, he and Damon started Artists Equity, a production company that operates on a profit-sharing model in hopes of getting better deals for everyone involved in filmmaking. It makes Sky feels like a letter of admiration — to Jordan, his family, the tenacious execs at Nike — and a statement of Affleck’s future intentions.

Full credits

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Production companies: Amazon, Artists Equity, Mandalay Pictures, Skydance Media
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Gustaf Skarsgård, Julius Tennon
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Screenwriter: Alex Convery
Producers: David Ellison, Jesse Sisgold, Jon Weinbach, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Madison Ainley, Jeff Robinov, Peter Guber and Jason Michael Berman
Executive Producers: Dana Goldberg, John Graham, Don Granger, Kevin Halloran, Michael Joe, Jordan Moldo, Jesse Sisgold, Peter E. Strauss, Drew Vinton
Cameraman: Robert Richardson
Production designer: François Audouy
Costume Designer: Charlese Antoinette Jones
Editor: William Goldenberg
Music: Andrea von Foerster
Casting Directors: Lindsay Graham, Mary Vernieu

Rated R, 1 hour 52 minutes

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