I’ve been on a sneaker buying binge lately. I was never in on Air Jordans when i was yonger. They were always too pricey for me. I did not see the need. But my search for comfortable footwear lead me to Nike’s Air Force One and then to the Jordans. Now I’m hooked. Three pairs. One in the traditional black and red, one all black with red sole and one in orange, blue and white (showing off my NY Mets fandom). I highly recommend. They are comfortable and I get a ton of complements.

So it was with more than just a passing interest that I fired up AIR on Amazon’s Prime Video service. As a one-time, now reformed sports nut I knew much of the story behind the Air Jordans. Nike was on the fringe of the basketball shoe market. The 2 best players in the world, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wore Converse. Some wore Adidas. Almost no one work Nike. They were a running shoe company. And a very successful one. Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) went from selling out of the back of his car to being the leader in the market. But they could not crack basketball. Then this skinny kid from North Carolina became the third pick in the 1994 NBA draft and the world was about to change, both on the court and in the sneaker market.

That’s where Affleck’s movie picks up. Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) was a basketball guru and Nike paid him to find their big hoops star. He saw something in Michael Jordan that told him he would be a legend. He pushed Nike to hitch their wagon to his career. It was a remarkable deal. The largest shoe deal in history. And Jordan would get a piece of every shoe sold. He’s has made billions from the Jordan brand. So has Nike. It was just about the smartest marketing deal in history. But it wasn’t simple.

Vaccaro had two battles. He had to convince Nike to blow their entire budget on Jordan and he had to sell Michael’s mom Doloris (Viola Davis) that Nike was better than Adidas or Converse. That’s the dramatic tension in the film. And Doloris is no easy sell. She recognizes her son’s star and marketing power. She comes across as a savvy, caring parent. She is wise and cunning in how she handles her son’s future.

Damon sells the desperation of someone at the end of his rope. His professional reputation and job at Nike are on the line. But he also comes across as the smartest guy in the room. He knows how to play Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) to make sure the deal gets made.

Affleck the director has a big hurdle to overcome, how to dramatize a story much of his audience knows. How to make it interesting to the viewers. He does it by leaning on his extraordinary cast and the great script by Alex Convery. It’s a pretty “talky” movie. A lot of dialogue. Not much in the way of action or tense set pieces. So it’s a good thing he has Damon, Davis, Messina and Jason Bateman (he plays Rob Strasser, the head of Nike marketing) on board. They are the four stars that shine the brightest. Damon makes Vaccaro someone to root for. He comes across as a kind of schlub, but you soon realize that he knows more than everyone. Davis is powerful as the no nonsense mom. Bateman is great as Vaccaro’s exasperated boss. and Messina is just outstanding as the straight talking, often violently profane Falk. There are a lot of very good performances. Marlon Wayans as coaching legend George Ravelling, Chris Tucker as athlete liaison Howard White, Matthew Maher as shoe designer Peter Moore. Affleck has another small but wacko role (see The Last Duel).

My one quibble and it was so distracting for me it almost killed the whole movie, is the soundtrack. There is no score, it’a all period correct music. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time I found it annoying. I think a score would have worked so much better. In the end I decided not to let it ruin my admiration for this very good film. Affleck is a really good director. He doesn’t necessarily have a style. He adapts to his material. He knows when to push and when to let go. Not every director can do that. It’s something to admire. And he is the perfect fit in this case. Affleck put the air in AIR.

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