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REVIEW: ‘AIR’ is the MVP movie for basketball fans, sneakerheads, and history buffs

By Jerald Uy Published Apr 14, 2023 4:56 pm

If there’s another place for sneakerheads, basketball fans, and even marketing professionals to huddle apart from the hardcourt, it’s the cinemas where sports drama AIR is set to hit this month. Directed by award-winning director Ben Affleck, AIR dramatizes steadfast third player Nike’s last-minute fastbreak to get then-rookie Michael Jordan to sign an exclusive sneaker deal—a business decision that changed the sports world forever.

Affleck is no stranger to historical drama, having helmed the historical drama thriller film Argo, which won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The Batman actor also plays the meditative Nike CEO Phil Knight, a supporting role to the movie’s central character, basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro, portrayed by Affleck’s frequent collaborator Matt Damon (Bourne franchise).  

Ben Affleck plays the meditative Nike CEO Phil Knight in the film.

Set in 1984, the movie is structured to highlight the 10 Principles of Nike:

  1. Our business is change.
  2. We're on offense. All the time.
  3. Perfect results count—not a perfect process. Break the rules: fight the law.
  4. This is as much about battle as about business.
  5. Assume nothing. Make sure people keep their promises. Push yourselves, push others. Stretch the possible.
  6. Live off the land.
  7. Your job isn't done until the job is done.
  8. Dangers. Bureaucracy. Personal ambition. Energy takers vs. energy givers. Knowing our weaknesses. Don’t get too many things on the platter.
  9. It won’t be pretty.
  10. If we do the right things, we’ll make money damn near automatic.

Not every principle gets its screen time. Heck, some items are even contradictory to what the characters are doing. Most show how Vacarro actually lives up to these principles but even face challenges within the company that wrote them.

While AIR also takes a hit at competitors Adidas and Converse in the movie, Nike gets its share of criticisms, too.

So while AIR also takes a hit at competitors Adidas (being founded by a Nazi) and Converse (whose aging executives then attempt to build a rapport with the young rookie with no avail), Nike gets its share of criticisms, too—being a sneaker brand that even Jordan does not find any meaning in.  

Despite a lot of talkies, Alex Convery’s screenplay does not bore. Expect to laugh at the banters between the characters, even those from opposing sides. Case in point is Vacarro and Jordan’s talent agent David Falk’s (Argo’s Chris Messina) amusing shouting match over the phone, which is pure entertainment for the viewers. The film also magnifies the characters’ eccentricities like the middle-aged shoe designer’s fondness of riding skateboards and a CEO running before making a significant business decision.   

Matt Damon as basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro

It is also a wise creative decision not to show the face of the actor playing Jordan (Prom Night Flex’s Damian Delano Young) to put the focus on his mother Deloris (The Suicide Squad’s Viola Davis). Davis’ restrained acting fits the role, subtly capturing how a nurturing mother negotiates for his son’s rights as an athlete.

A scene-stealer is Vacarro’s final pitch that almost feels like a tribute to Jordan’s basketball (and baseball) career. There’s a risk of making the viewers feel cringe and breaking the film’s suspension of disbelief, but AIR pulls off without a hitch.  

Whether you want to learn about the history of Air Jordan 1 sneakers, the rise of Nike, or the greatness that is Michael Jordan, AIR is a slam-dunk, fast-paced history lesson.

Watch AIR starting April 19 at SM Cinemas. Watch the trailer below.