Occasionally, a movie that immediately feels like a comfort movie will come out. AIR doesn’t feel like the subject matter should be comforting, but somehow it ends up like that. After all, it’s about Nike signing Michael Jordan to a shoe contract. However, AIR does something unexpected in that situation. Not to spoil anything, but you don’t see an actor’s face playing MJ in the movie. You only see or hear Michael Jordan in archival footage and the word “hello”. No, this isn’t a biopic about Phil Knight, either. Taking this story about titanic moneymakers and pushing them to the side of the stage is the stroke of genius that AIR hits. The people that actually made the deal happen, the bit players in the grand scheme of real life, are the stars of this film.

Of those so-called bit players, Sonny Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon) is the center of everything. He’s surrounded by Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), Howard White (Chris Tucker), Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), and George Raveling (Marlon Wayans). Sonny is a down-on-his-luck talent scout for Nike’s basketball department. It might not seem like it happened, but in 1984, Nike was third in market share for basketball shoes behind Converse and Adidas. Their basketball department was almost assuredly going to close down unless something big happened. Enter Michael Jordan.

He’s the greatest basketball player of all time, and one of the richest athletes in the entire world. His name is a brand. That also wasn’t the case in 1984 when MJ came into the NBA. He was heavily courted by all three companies, but Nike was not his top choice, by a long shot.

So, with the basics out of the way, let’s dive in deeper.

Affleck Captures The 80s

From the get-go, Air exudes the feeling of the 80s. “Money For Nothing” blasts over the studio logos, and a montage of different 80s events, people, pop culture references, and more hit you in the face with all the good and bad of the 80s. It’s a cocaine nail away from being picture perfect. Affleck’s directing style is on full-display with quick cuts and that music video feel. Make no mistake though, this isn’t just The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street with Nike shoes. What makes this stand apart from other films like it, the pop cultural biopic, is that this movie never loses focus of the little guy.

Other movies about multi-million dollar deals gloss over the nasty things about historical events. AIR brings them right out in the open. If this deal doesn’t work, an entire department of people lose their job. It’s brought up that Nike shoes are made in South Korea and Taiwan, and how that’s an issue. It’s also brought up that Phil Knight and the rest of the people making all the money are exploiting athletes. This is majorly refreshing to see a movie paint a picture of corporate culture so well.

Matt Damon stealing the show isn’t a surprise. Ben Affleck putting on an almost silly costume is no surprise here either (go watch The Last Duel to see some really great work from Affleck in the silliest of costumes). Viola Davis going toe-to-toe with Matt Damon in a scene that feels like two tennis players at the top of their game is no surprise. Yet, AIR brings out some nice character work from Jason Bateman and Matthew Maher in particular. So where you expect excellence out of the three biggest and most acclaimed stars of the film, Bateman and Maher do a great job of helping the audience see this story from the perspective of the people on the peripheries.

An Excellent Script, Excellent Soundtrack, & Excellent Score

To capture that 80s essence, you need a great soundtrack. AIR takes some of the best songs of the era, but not some of the most cliche and typical ones. Luckily we don’t have to hear overplayed movie songs like “Kickstart My Heart” or “Back In Black” throughout.

Alex Convery is a first-time screenwriter with AIR. That’s not apparent at all in this film with some tight dialogue and an even pace that doesn’t drag anywhere. Some particular standouts include Viola Davis and Matt Damon meeting at the Jordan house, Damon calling out everything that executives at Adidas and Converse will say to Michael, and of course the third act that plays with your emotions and hangs on every decision. It’s a great first effort from Convery.

All About The Little Guy

Through it all, AIR isn’t about the big splashy deals between billion and million dollar athletes. It’s about the people under the surface that make deals happen. The people who helped design and create that signature shoe. The fact that you don’t see Michael Jordan’s face at all in the movie is a benefit not a bug. It keeps the focus on the people that are forgotten after the fact. It doesn’t present those people as flawless, Sonny Vaccaro is alone in his life, his life is basketball. Characters like this don’t usually get the opportunity to show their worts, but you see plenty of them in AIR.

Speaking of worts, AIR does fall into the trappings of most biopics out there. It doesn’t completely gloss over the less than desireable things about people’s lives or the practices of corporations. There’s undoutebly historical liberties taken with the events and people as well. Those things are small nitpicks that don’t really take away from how magnificent AIR is.

There’s something comforting about AIR that’s hard to describe without seeing it. Whether it’s a warm performance from Matt Damon, a perfectly cast turn from Viola Davis, or Ben Affleck showing just why he’s such a special director, it all adds together for one of the best sports movies in recent memory.

AIR releases in theaters on April 5th, 2023.

For more Reviews, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.

Keep Reading: