By: Adam Freed
The Hollywood movie machine has a powerful way of distorting things. It has the potential to conjure in some individuals levels of fame so incomprehensible that it becomes difficult to remember the reason why someone became famous in the first place. Through the cacophony of magazine covers, celebrity weddings and personal turmoil, movie goers may need to be reminded why Ben Affleck won his first Oscar at only 25 for writing the sublime Good Will Hunting, and then backed it up 15 years later with a second golden statue, this time for his direction of best picture winner Argo. Whether attracted to the art or fatigued by his fame, it is time to admit that Affleck is a master storyteller. This fact should no longer sit upon the ledgers of debate.
Affleck’s newest film Air is a 1980’s period piece planted at the dawn of the modern era of NBA basketball, marking the arrival of Michael Jordan. Air becomes rare due to its perfectly curated collection of acting talent. So dynamic is the well established screen chemistry between Affleck, as Nike CEO Phil Knight, and a commanding Matt Damon channeling lovably relentless schlub Sonny Vaccaro, that audiences may feel the loss in scenes excluding the two. Every scene shared by lifelong friends Damon and Affleck feels an opportunity to witness something special between generational performers, a feeling that only ratchets up as on screen adversaries morph into allies.
As memorable as Damon and Affleck are, it seems unfathomable that they could be outshined within a film specifically written for their talents. Yet, this is the unquestioned talent of Viola Davis. Davis, here embodies Deloris Jordan, matriarch, moral compass and unquestioned soothsayer of Jordan’s eventual rise to global domination. Davis, hand selected by Jordan himself, plays Mrs. Jordan as a woman destined to will her son to a greatness that perhaps only she and Sonny Vaccaro are able to fully comprehend. In one pivotal moment, that in less capable directorial hands would’ve ground the film to a halt of banal business negotiation, Affleck brilliantly isolates Davis in close up, which allows her full control of the conveyance of her faith in her son and simultaneously allows for her unquestioned ability to deploy her impressive emotional depth.
No NBA player, regardless of how many rings he wears upon his retirement, walks away hitting every shot. As is the case for Air, which at its heights, soars freely, lightly, and with great meaning. There are moments however where this film feels procedural, and perhaps presents just a little too cute in its self reverence for the nostalgia of 1984. Audiences may find a challenge to fully engage with the concept that one of the most globally recognizable and dominant brands can be seen as a lovable underdog. Minor contrivances aside, Air is a film that audiences are going to enjoy on multiple levels. For fans of Jordan lore and for footwear enthusiasts alike, this feels a meaningful origin story. For those drawn to the film for its director and many stars, few will go home disappointed. After all, one thing needs to be remembered about fame, it is generally bestowed in greatest proportions upon those with the most talent.