Advertisement

Air: almost enough to make you care about a shoe

Air
Air

In Hollywood’s ongoing mission to present its customers with things they know they already like, here is an odd but logical new development. Call it the brand biopic: films that relive the creation of successful products such as the video game Tetris, the Blackberry smartphone, and even Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the angry orange corn snack.

All three of these are due to arrive over the next few months, as is Ben Affleck’s Air: a dramatisation of the boardroom wrangling that led to the 1984 release of the Nike Air Jordan trainer, which is presented here as a cultural breakthrough roughly on a par with the dawn of Cubism.

Featuring a conspicuously highly qualified cast including Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman and Affleck himself, it is a consistently watchable, handsome and solidly built entertainment – or at least a two-hour footwear advertisement convincingly disguised as one. And it works on exactly the level it is supposed to, which is to say that a few days after seeing it I went out to buy some new gym shoes and was already holding a pair of Nikes at the till before I even realised I’d been got.

Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s paunchy fortysomething in-house basketball guru. It’s his job to book sponsorship deals with athletes who would overwhelmingly rather be associated with cooler manufacturers like Converse and Adidas, and don’t want to be seen within miles of a firm whose core customer base is middle-class joggers. But after watching and rewatching game footage in the office VHS suite, he recognises something special in a then-21-year-old Chicago Bulls recruit who seems at an almost supernatural ease on the court.

Affleck’s Phil Knight, the CEO, is unconvinced that his company should spent its entire annual budget on pursuing this stripling, but Sonny talks him round, and sets off to persuade Jordan’s redoubtable mother Deloris (Davis) to bring her boy onside. Young Michael himself is only ever shown at a distance or from behind: a choice that creates as many problems as it solves.

Ben Affleck in Air
Ben Affleck in Air

The clunky, fuzzy textures of the 1980s business world are nicely captured, while the soundtrack seemingly contains every popular chart hit released within around three years of the depicted events. As comfort viewing for dads, it occasionally approaches the realm of self-parody: there is a sequence set to In a Big Country in which we watch Damon smoothly overtaking a fellow driver on the motorway, apparently just for the joy of it.

Alex Convery’s script frames the story half as a Moneyball-like cracking of the sports world’s cosmic code, half as a Jerry Maguire-style triumph against the corporate odds. Is Air as polished or distinctive as either of those films? Not nearly, no. But it’s absorbing and well-acted enough that at times you could almost forget you were being asked to emotionally invest in which company gets to slide its wares onto a rich young sportsman’s feet.


U cert, 112 min. In cinemas now