Movie Review: Air

Matt Damon stars as Trafford native "Sonny" Vaccaro in what amounts to a pretty good movie, considering the story is about shoe marketing.


Ben Affleck’s “Air” is so charming that you’ll frequently forget that you’re watching a movie about shoe marketing.

The story of Nike’s long-shot bid to secure the endorsement rights to a young man named Michael Jordan is the sort of nominally interesting business story that would ordinarily fill 10 minutes in a larger documentary. Here, it gets 112 minutes, an all-star cast and a clear and concerted effort to turn a literal footnote into a sports movie.

It mostly works. It ekes out a win, you might say.

The protagonist of “Air” is John “Sonny” Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a longtime Nike executive — and a Trafford native — who co-founded the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, a longtime showcase of young basketball talent at the Civic Arena. (Trafford isn’t mentioned in the film, but the Dapper Dan is.) The “inspired by true events” version has Vaccaro running out of time to make a splash at Nike when he gets a hunch that this Jordan kid is gonna be the biggest thing in basketball.

Vaccaro believes that Nike should go all-in on Jordan; his boss, company founder Phil Knight (Affleck) and his co-workers (including Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker) aren’t sold. More pressingly, Jordan doesn’t like Nike; we’re in the mid-’80s, and that means Adidas is on top. Vaccaro flies to North Carolina to try to win over Jordan’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), all while begging Nike to see what he sees.

It’s a comedy, mostly, though it has the structure of a sports movie: The floundering underdog, the glimmer of hope, the long-shot ascension, the penultimate heartbreak, the climactic victory. (That doesn’t count as a spoiler; I believe you know that Air Jordans do, in fact, exist.) Some of the humor is quite effective — Bateman and Damon shine, as does Matthew Maher as basement-dwelling shoe artisan Peter Moore — while other moments feel too overstated. (It’s always nice to see Chris Tucker, but he’s in the wrong movie.)

The only downside, of course, is that the victory is not a championship — it’s just a shoe company becoming an even bigger shoe company. The film attempts a late reframing, positing that this is really a story about athletes taking control over their likeness, but it rings a bit false; “Air” is simply a good movie about shoes.

My Rating: 7/10

“Air” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner