Air – Film Review
by Frank L
Directed – Ben Affleck
Writer – Alex Convery
Stars – Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck
It is 1984 and in the world of basketball shoes, Converse has 50% of the market, Adidas has 30% and Nike has a measly 17%. Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) works for Nike in their basketball division. His task is to discover young basketball players before they become famous and sign them up for Nike in the hope that one of them will turn out to be a star. The problem Sonny has is that the amount of money he has to sign up players is small and he has to spread it over more than one player, making his offers comparatively meagre. Sonny is a basketball fanatic and he spends his time looking at young players and watching videos of them playing. He becomes fixated on the skills of a young, relatively unknown player called Michael Jordan. The film is all about the challenges that Sonny has to face within Nike, with Michael Jordan’s advisers (including his formidable mother Deloris played by Viola Davis) and with Nike’s competitors, in order to get Michael Jordan to sign for Nike.
It is not necessary to know the ins and outs of basketball to appreciate this film as it takes you on an unlikely against-the-odds story. Vaccaro has a robust relationship with Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) the chief executive of Nike and finds young Jordan’s agent impossible to deal with. He decides on an alternative and exceedingly dangerous strategy of going directly to Michael Jordan in the shape of his wise and shrewd mother Deloris. There are many fine moments in this film but the initial conversation between Sonny Vaccaro and Deloris Jordan has to be one of the highlights. The camera focuses on each in close-ups and in the case of Vaccaro, you can see the individual hairs of his stubble. It adds intensity to what was a most important conversation. Viola Davis as Deloris is mesmerising as she seeks to protect and to value the interests of her talented son in the subsequent negotiations.
Another joy is the Nike shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) who is a creative in a world of money, balance sheets and market penetration. His job is to create a basketball shoe which will help entice Jordan to sign up for Nike. Maher produces a nuanced performance whose individuality as a designer is able to flourish in what is a confined area of operation in a world dominated by figures. The direction of the film has also to handle the fact that Michael Jordan is a teenager when these events are happening and while he does appear as a figure in various scenes, through the use of clever camera work his facial features are not disclosed. It creates a sense of mystery about Michael Jordan who is the individual that is central to Vaccaro, Nike and to his mother Deloris.
In simple terms, this is a story of signing up a young athlete to an endorsement contract for a commercial product. You know what the end result is going to be from the start but the way the film is constructed and directed, there are many moments of great tension as well as comic repartee as the various challenges which arise are faced and ultimately overcome. It is a beautifully constructed film.
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