Review: Air

I’m a sucker for movies set in the business world, be they about finance (The Big Short) or sales (The Founder), as long as they center the drama on the transactional nature of commercial enterprise. This isn’t to say I’m a capital-C capitalist, but rather that the kind of dedication that goes into business dealings, especially when they are totally self-serving, makes for credible tension, and the more technical the dealings the more exciting it is. Ben Affleck’s Air satisfies that craving. It isn’t the first movie about marketing, but it may be the most single-minded. There’s a kind of religious fundamentalism to the way these people approach their jobs, and while often this obsessiveness is played for laughs, in the end it only succeeds when the filmmakers share in that obsessiveness, even to the peril of their own souls.

The story told here is not new, and to basketball freaks it’s probably gospel. In 1984, the running shoe leader Nike, headquartered in cool, green Oregon, trailed Adidas and Converse in the sales of basketball shoes by a wide margin. As with all sports equiipment companies they needed to tie their brand to popular athletes, and were stymied by their CEO Phil Knight’s (Affleck) penny-pinching ways, which usually resulted in hitching their wagon to second- or third-tier figures. Nike’s basketball division marketer, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), as pure a sport head as you could find, wanted to go bold and spend the entire budget on one guaranteed star, and he saw in Michael Jordan, at the time still a college player who had just decided to drop out and go pro, the future. As it happened, Adidas and Converse also eyed Jordan as a potential asset, and they had more money and street cred, so Vaccaro had his work cut out for him, not only in terms of persuading Jordan to sign with Nike, but in getting Knight to allow him to court Jordan. 

Consequently, Vaccaro went around Knight and Jordan’s vitriolic agent (Chris Messina), talking directly to Jordan’s parents (Viola Davis, Julius Tennon), which was something of an ethical no-no, but that’s how many tough business deals are forged, and Deloris Jordan’s even-tempered, qualified encouragement prompted Vaccaro to go ahead and proceed as if there was a possibility Nike would get the endorsement. He even had their shoe designer (Matthew Maher) make a prototype. As played by Affleck, Knight is something of a false flag, a guy who acts all CEOey (though in a Buddhist sort of way) but in the end bows to the superior minds he hired to make him money, which in this case also included marketing chief Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), and idea man Howard White (Chris Tucker, in a role that is custom made for his peculiar talents). And when the movie settles in among these guys and their trash-talk meetings over strategy, it hums like a fine-tooled machine. But, of course, it has to be about more than just business, and once Vaccaro goes eyeball-to-eyeball with Deloris—Michael, like the deity he is, is never seen in the movie except from the back—it becomes something of a passion play and loses its spark; or, more precisely, it gets warm and mushy, mainly over matters of fairness. And while that’s a nice thing, if they really wanted to address the problematic side of sports paraphernalia they should talk more about Asian sweatshops, which is only mentioned in passing, as if it were expected but too much of a downer. For business-oriented movies, the vibe is everything. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).

Air home page in Japanese

photo (c) Amazon Content Services LLC

This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.