Air is a fine film for the performances of a corporate procedural that is entertaining for its firm track.

Air (2023) Review By Mark McPherson

Published on May 31, 2023

Rating 3.5 /5

Nike is a name everybody knows now, but during the 1980s, it was on the bottom rung of shoe producers. It’s a company that the association of Michael Jordan only saved. Air is a film that attempts to find the tension and drama in this company, making a last-ditch effort to ascend to the top of the basketball shoe game. It takes its liberties incredibly and features some strong performances to make this picture a solid corporate procedural.

The film takes place in 1984, Oregon, where the Nike corporation needs a hit. CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), known for his shoe-less appearance in the office, is thirsty to land a big name for their brand, and the frustrated marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) shares these concerns. Their only hope is if talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) can land a big fish, and he’s set his sights on the perfect candidate who could be the spokesperson for Nike. While Sonny isn’t perfect, he takes ample risks that save the company, leading him to sign Michael Jordan to the brand.

This film is equal parts the rise of Nike and the company’s road to Jordan. The young Michael Jordan himself is not so much focussed on the business around him. This leads to several scenes where Sonny interacts and talks business with Michael’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis), who is no stranger to these deals. She becomes well aware of what the other shoe brands offer and seeks out the best route that won’t screw her son over if Nike profits from his success. This led to several great scenes of negotiating and back and forth to what would ultimately lead to the creation of the Air Jordan, one of the most popular basketball player-affiliated shoes in history.

The acting is the most vital part of this picture. The film helps assemble a strong batch of talent to fill these roles and make this tactile story engaging for its progression. Damon gives it his all as a man who floats between shameless huckster and desperate salesman, walking a fine line to impress the Jordans. Affleck has the right tone of a cocky yet uncertain CEO who exists somewhere between a new-age guru and a nervous businessman. Viola Davis is always in top form and doesn’t disappoint as a no-nonsense mother who knows how to talk business and find the best route for her son. Another notable performance is Marlon Wayans in the role of George Raveling, a former basketball coach who gives sage advice, quickly making for Wayans’s best performance in years.

The enjoyment of the film ultimately depends on how much one can appreciate the rise of Nike, specifically within the mindset of the mid-1980s. One might recall that in the 1990s, Nike came under fire for their economic practices and use of sweatshops, highlighted beautifully in the documentary The Big One, where Moore approached Knight directly and gave him a chance to visit his sweatshops directly. It’s hard to shake the legacy of Nike when a film such as this ends by citing Knight as having been very charitable in donations. Framed in the 1980s, the film is unique and exciting for the performances and the progression, even with some highly dramatized scenes far too grand to be all that believable. Framed for the future of Nike itself, the film loses that focus, as though Nike has been golden since adopting Michael Jordan as their brand.

Air is a fine film for the performances of a corporate procedural that is entertaining for its firm track. That’s probably the only way to appreciate this story, and, on that level, it’s a great showcase of talents. Good performances can save a dull or misguided historical drama, and this film could easily be used as exhibit A for that theory. Watch it for the marvelous talents of Damon, Affleck, Bateman, and Davis, but when you’re done, watch The Big One for more context on the complete history of Nike.

Written By

Mark McPherson

Written By

Mark McPherson

Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.

View Profile