Did you know that Michael Jordan makes $400 million a year in passive income due to the percentage he gets from the sale of Air Jordans? To understand how this came to be, we must travel back to the 1980s and the campus of famed sneaker label Nike. The story is the subject of Ben Affleck’s newest film Air. Written by Alex Convery, the movie stars Affleck, Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman and Julius Tennon.
Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) likes to gamble — i.e. he likes to take risks. He works for Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) as the company’s basketball division expert. He looks for up-and-coming b-ball players and offers them shoe endorsement deals, and currently he has his eye on an 18-year-old Michael Jordan. Sonny thinks Jordan is worth the full price they’re offering ($250,000), and so does Vaccaro’s advisor Howard White (Tucker). Knight and VP of marketing Robert Strasser (Bateman) think it’s a liability to do so. He tries to get a meeting with Jordan by talking with his agent David Falk (Messina), but the athlete is more interested in signing with Adidas.
Vaccaro steps over the chain of command and flies to North Carolina to talk to Jordan’s parents Delores (Davis) and James (Tennon). With two shoe endorsement meetings coming up with Adidas and Converse, Sonny asks Jordan’s mother to reconsider talking to Nike, and warns her about what to expect when speaking to the other companies. With the Nike CEO, Falk and Strasser breathing down his neck to close the deal or lose his job, Vaccaro deploys clever maneuvers to secure the client and stay employed.
In his fifth feature film, Affleck’s talents exceed expectations. He’s grown as an actor and director but is best when doing both. Not sure how he does it. The organization and patience needed to balance all of those elements must be stressful, but I couldn’t tell because he never breaks a sweat. In Air, Affleck makes great use of aerial shots showing just how large some of these company campuses are. A staple of his visual style is desaturated scenes that utilize a mix of green and blue, which fits the tone of his earlier work. But he changes it up here by upping the brightness and color, offering a sense of hope.
Every castmember gives an award-worthy performance; it’s hard to choose one, and it’s a rarity to watch such good acting across the board. I’ve seen two Affleck performances at SXSW, and you can just tell when he’s enthusiastic about a project and when he’s phoning it in. Convery’s script has all the elements to invoke the energy needed to pull this off.
One thing the film makes clear: Delores Jordan is responsible for the career her son has today. Despite resistance from Nike, she was able to negotiate a deal where Michael gets a global percentage from every Air Jordan shoe sold. Her stance was that she knows her son’s worth, and that “A shoe is just a shoe…until my son steps into it.” The goal was to create footwear that reflected his persona and give fans something that will make them feel closer to the soon-to-be NBA legend.
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Seeing Air, and how the world’s most popular sneaker came into existence, makes me think about the fact that people are now stealing, killing and dying for a pair. It’s crazy to think about this trajectory: It started off innocently and eventually tured customers into rabid consumers. Of course that’s not Jordan’s problem, but this story puts things in perspective. So many white men were in control of his career, I am glad to see some type of on-screen advocacy for athletes like Mike and others like him as this deal with Nike has changed the sneaker and basketball industry in monumental ways.
Festival: SXSW, Headliners
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenwriters: Alex Convery
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Gustaf Skarsgård, Julius Tennon
Running time: 1 hr 51 mins
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