The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - AIR | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - AIR

New to Prime Video - AIR
The story of how Nike snared basketball star Michael Jordan.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ben Aflfeck

Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Matthew Maher Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Marlon Wayans

Air poster

Matt Damon is to the 2020s as Chuck Norris was to the 1980s, the face of American insecurity. Norris made movies that appealed to a longing to return to a time when America could win wars. Like Rambo, his Missing in Action movies were a fantasy about returning to Vietnam to finish the job and kicking some commie ass. Invasion USA made Americans believe that all it would take to stop communism was a good guy with a gun in each hand. America doesn't worry about communism anymore. Rather, it worries about other countries doing capitalism better than America. America doesn't make much stuff anymore, and the stuff it does make is made in China, a communist country better at capitalism than America. That's gotta hurt.

Enter Matt Damon. He doesn't smear facepaint on his cheeks or strap machine guns around his waist. No, he's an American hero for the neoliberal age. Increasingly sporting a relatable paunch, he battles foreigners (Europeans, because xenophobia isn't considered as unpalatable as racism) with something those cheese-eating Euro trash can't compete with – good old American moxie. He used it to beat the Italians in Ford vs Ferrari (sorry, nobody refers to that movie by its official UK/ROI release title of Le Mans '66). He used it to beat the French in Stillwater. Now he employs it to take on the Germans in Air. Damon's own Missing in Action trilogy is complete.

Air rides a wave of movies that feed on nostalgia for a lost era when America made stuff, or at least made money off stuff made by others. In the coming weeks and months we're getting movies about the creators of the Blackberry phone, the American who marketed the Russian video game Tetris to the west (take that commies!), and the genius behind the Flamin' Hot Cheetos corn snack.

Air review

This one is about Nike's campaign to sign a rookie basketball player named Michael Jordan in 1984. Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, the footwear brand's basketball talent scout. He's set on signing Jordan, despite his superiors - who include director Ben Affleck as Nike co-founder Phil Knight - dismissing the idea as a pipedream. As hard to believe as it seems now, Nike was an underdog at the time, trailing behind the German behemoth Adidas and all-American rival Converse, both of whom would seem to be able to offer Jordan far  more tempting offers.

But those Gerrys don't have American moxie dammit, something Vaccaro has in spades. Along with shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Moore), Vaccaro comes up with a basketball shoe tailor made for Jordan – the Air Jordan. As the constant inserts of Nike's 10 corporate principles tells us, the brand likes to break the rules. Vaccaro follows this credo by defying the NBA's rules about the amount of colour allowed on a shoe, and thus the distinctive, some might say garish, red swoosh takes its place on the shoe. To hell with the fines!

Air review

I can't say I was ever invested in Air's story. Do I care if a wealthy Nike employee gets a little wealthier? Do I care if a young basketball player picks one brand over another? Not a bit; it essentially boils down to one company paying an athlete more money than the others. Yet I found myself engaged by Air throughout. This is down to the pairing of Affleck and Damon. As a director, Affleck knows how to keep a story moving, a rare skill in today's mainstream American cinema. He has a tabloid hack's knack of making the bland seem extravagant, and crucially he's not afraid to be cheesy. And boy, is Air cheesy. The '80s recreation is so in-your-face you'll leave the cinema with an aftertaste of Soda Stream (ask your parents). The soundtrack features almost every top 10 hit of 1984, some of them employed in the cringiest fashion possible (has anyone ever actually listened to the lyrics of Born in the USA?). Affleck repurposes Tangerine Dream's score for Risky Business, because his protagonists are literally engaged in risky business. When the Air Jordan is first revealed, the camera tracks in as Love on a Real Train plays on the soundtrack. That a piece of music associated with Tom Cruise banging Rebecca DeMornay is now used to fetishise a product probably says more about the 2020s than the 1980s.

The script by Alex Convery, which previously resided on the infamous black list of unproduced screenplays, reads a lot like second rate Sorkin, but Damon brings it to life with a natural ease. He really is one of our most under-rated actors. To use a sports metaphor, he's like one of those quiet midfielders who never does anything flashy but keeps his team ticking. He's the Paul Scholes of cinema. You may not realise what he brings to a movie, but if you took him out of the cast you'd notice his absence. I can't think of too many American actors that could play a role as bland as this and keep us engaged to this degree. The movie also gives Damon occasion to exercise his underused comic chops, and some of his line deliveries are genuinely laugh out loud funny.

Air review

There are some unintentional laughs here too. The real Michael Jordan gave the film his blessing, but he doesn't seem to have allowed the filmmakers to portray him in the movie. The way Affleck shoots around the stand-in playing Jordan is laughably misjudged. At times we only see him from the neck down, like Al in Police Squad (ask your parents). Other times he keeps his back to the camera or covers his face with his hand, like the chiropractor Ed Wood brought in when Bela Lugosi died halfway through shooting Plan 9 from Outer Space (ask your grandparents). The German Adidas corporate heads resemble villains from the Austin Powers series, and the film even refers to them as Nazis at one point.

Taken at face value, Air is a rather unpalatable hagiography of a corporation whose contribution to the world has been a net negative. A closing title card is keen to point out how the company has donated $2 billion to charity, but that's a drop in the ocean for a corporation that made $4.8 billion in 2021 from the Air Jordan brand alone. No mention is made of the pollution caused by Nike's Asian factories, or the modern day slavery and union-bashing that occurs within those facilities. Air wants you to feel good about dropping €130 on a pair of sneakers some poor bastard in Indonesia got paid 20 cents to assemble. Its anti-European xenophobia and corporate cheerleading rubbed me the wrong way, but I'm not one of those people who needs a movie to pander to my political beliefs. I can appreciate it does all these things very well, even if I wish it didn't. Affleck's film is a fun time at the movies, but if you're won over by its free advertising and find yourself tempted to buy a pair of Nike shoes – just don't.

 is on Prime Video now.

2023 movie reviews