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Matt Damon in Ben Affleck’s ode to Michael Jordan – The Hollywood Reporter


Ben Affleck air He works on a highly respected and respected track record when it comes to his subject, his family and the sport in which he made his legacy. The film, which premiered at SXSW, chronicles Nike’s tense campaign to sign Michael Jordan, then a rookie in the NBA, to his first sneaker deal in 1984. That contract, which closed a year before the first Air was sold Jordans to the public, Nike changed their reputation and changed the way players negotiated brand deals.

Movies about corporate legalities and closed-door meetings are rarely anyone’s idea of ​​a good time, but there are ways to infuse them with energy. Tetris, for example, which also premiered at SXSW this year, took this genre route, turning the history of the video game licensing battle into a Cold War thriller. in air, Affleck attaches himself to emotion, arriving at a storyline that reframes the deal between Jordan and Nike as the story of legendary Nike CEO Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) trying to win over the player’s mother, Delores (Viola Davis). This tendency allows Affleck, who plays Nike CEO Phil Knight in the movie, to get organized air It’s about the broad themes that feel good about standard sports dramas despite the lack of action on the field.


bottom line

Not a dunking slam, but it scores enough points.

place: SXSW Film Festival (headliners)
release date: Wednesday, April 5th
Throw: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans
exit: Ben Affleck
screenwriter: Alex Convery

Rated R, 1 hour 52 minutes

For most audiences, air It’ll be worth watching just for the high-profile cast – especially the reunion between Damon and Affleck. Their scenes have a kinetic, intimate dynamic that the rest of the film approaches but doesn’t always match. Old friends are smitten as Sonny — in charge of the company’s struggling basketball division — and Phil trying to take Nike to the next level. (Before signing on for Jordan, the shoe company held a 17 percent share of the market compared to rivals Adidas and Converse.) Their conversations take place in Phil’s suitably old-fashioned office (the production was designed by François Audouy) and offer insights into how both executives are trying to balance their imaginations. Nike’s scattered roots side-by-side with the company’s ambitions.

The film opens four years after Nike went public, a move that places Phil at the behest of an omniscient council. In an early conversation, Phil mentions Sonny that he hired him to grow his basketball department, not his tanks. Sony responds by pointing out that the company’s IPO was a mistake in terms of corporate ethics. The intrepid CEO from Philadelphia works on a different level than his ambitious boss, who believes in focus groups and methodology. Affleck plays Phil’s contradictions—the man’s simultaneous devotion to the bottom line and his obsession with Buddhism—as one of the film’s running jokes.

Phil and Sonny’s divergent ideologies come to a head when Sonny suggests putting all of the fledgling band’s money on Michael Jordan. The president disagrees, and he’s not the only skeptic. Teammates Howard White (Chris Tucker), Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), and George Raveling (Marlon Wayans), one of Jordan’s coaches at the 1984 Olympics, try to dissuade him. The dynamics within this group of coworkers and friends provide most of the film’s comedic relief while also helping us deepen our understanding of Nike’s philosophy. When they’re later joined by Nike’s creative director Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), the film applies – admirably – the poetic reverence usually reserved for depictions of sport in these kinds of dramas of a shoe’s design process.

Sonny is not one to take no for granted or ignore his instincts. After a crucial call with Jordan’s agent, David Falk (the hilarious Chris Messina), Sonny flies from Oregon to North Carolina to court Jordan’s parents. Delores (Davis) and James (Julius Tennon) turn out to be tougher than Sonny expected. They are immune to his salesman’s charms and unfazed by his dramatic entry into their property. Delores, in particular, demands a quiet respect that Sonny gives her in awe.

Their conversations – it’s a talking movie – mark a turn air. His questions appeal to the value Deloris places on family, fairness, and the unquestioned greatness of her son. Affleck shoots these scenes in close-ups meant to elicit mutual appreciation between the two parties, but the screenplay (by Alex Convery) makes it hard to buy. Although Deloris gets quite a bit of screen time, her character doesn’t feel developed enough to carry her full weight. airDramatic aspirations. Davis gives us a sense of this woman’s interior with a raised eyebrow, questioning stare, and rare smile of approval, but she seems to be working with a skeletal figure. An argument could be made that this minimalism is a way of communicating the quiet strength of Deloris, a woman who Jordan takes credit for as his identity. But there’s not enough to stop it from feeling like an amalgam of characters we’ve seen before with more than one person with specific experiences.

These experiences are important. Sonny and Delores have a deep and unwavering faith in Jordan, but, as she points out during one conversation, his strong sense of self is a product of the lessons she taught him. Delores and her son’s understanding of their worth is what drives them to negotiate a contract that will give Jordan a percentage of the proceeds from Air Jordan sales.

under sentimental air are allusions to a more compelling theme: How do you compensate people in a society organized around corporate greed? The third act of the film highlights and revolves around the concept of justice. The Jordan Contract changed the way players make money from brand deals. A note right before the closing credits tells us that Sonny will play a crucial role in taking over the NCAA and helping college athletes get paid for the commercial use of their likeness. This all feels prescient given Affleck’s latest project: Last year, he and Damon founded Artists Equity, a production company that operates on a profit-sharing model in hopes of creating better deals for everyone in the film industry. that makes air It feels like a message of admiration — to Jordan, his family, and the tireless Nike executives — and a statement of Affleck’s future intentions.

Full credits

Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Superstars)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Production companies: Amazon, Artists Equity, Mandalay Pictures, and Skydance Media
Cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Gustav Skarsgård, Julius Tenon
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenwriter: Alex Convery
Producers: David Ellison, Jesse Sisgold, John Weinbach, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Madison Ainley, Jeff Robinov, Peter Guber, Jason Michael Berman
Executive Producers: Dana Goldberg, John Graham, Don Granger, Kevin Halloran, Michael Go, Jordan Moldue, Jesse Sisgold, Peter E. Strauss, Drew Fenton
Photography: Robert Richardson
Production Designer: François Audi
Costume designer: Charles Antoinette Jones
Editor: William Goldenberg
Music: Andrea von Forster
Casting Directors: Lindsey Graham, Mary Verneau

Rated R, 1 hour 52 minutes

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.