With “Air,” it all comes together in an enormously entertaining package—one that’s old-fashioned but also alive and crowd-pleasing. Working from a sharp and snappy script by Alex Convery, Affleck tells the story of how Nike nabbed Jordan by creating a shoe that wasn’t just for him but of him—the representation of his soon-to-be iconic persona in a form that made us feel as if we, too, could reach such heights. This probably makes “Air” sound like a two-hour sneaker commercial. It is not. If you love movies about process, about people who are good at their jobs, then you’ll find yourself enthralled by the film’s many moments inside offices, conference rooms, and production labs.
The interactions within those mundane spaces make “Air” such a joy, starting with the reteaming of Affleck and Matt Damon. It’s a blast watching these longtime best friends, co-stars, and co-writers playing off each other again, provoking and cajoling, more than a quarter century after “Good Will Hunting.” Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike recruiting expert who recognized the young North Carolina guard as a once-in-a-generation talent and pursued him relentlessly to keep him from Converse and Adidas cooler brands. Affleck is Nike co-founder and former CEO Phil Knight, an intriguing mix of Zen calm and corporate arrogance. He walks around the office barefoot, yet he drives a Porsche he insists is not purple but rather grape in hue. Vaccaro, as his friend and colleague from the company’s earliest days, is the only one who can speak truth to power, and the affection and friction of that camaraderie shine through.
The year is 1984 (boy, is it ever—more on that in a minute), and Nike’s basketball division is an afterthought within the Oregon-based running shoe company. Nike is also an also-ran among its competitors. Vaccaro, a doughy, middle-aged bulldog in various puddy-colored Members Only jackets (the on-point work of costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones), knows Jordan can change all that, and most “Air” consists of him convincing everyone around him of that notion. That includes director of marketing Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman, whose mastery of dry, rat-a-tat banter is the perfect fit for this material); player-turned-executive Howard White (an amusingly fast-talking Chris Tucker); Jordan’s swaggering agent, David Falk (Chris Messina, who nearly steals the whole movie with one hilariously profane telephone tirade); and finally, Jordan’s proud and protective mother, Deloris (Viola Davis, whose arrival provides the film with a new level of weight and wisdom). Character actor Matthew Maher, who always brings an intriguing presence to whatever film he’s in, stands out as Nike’s idiosyncratic shoe design guru, Peter Moore.