Quick Synopsis: It’s the 80s (in the film, not now, obviously) and Nike’s basketball shoe division is flailing, when one guy makes a decision: throw everything they can on signing the rights to create shoes for a young Michael Jordan.
I’ll get the big thing out of the way first: Michael Jordan isn’t in this. Well, he technically is, but mainly out of focus or shot from behind, I’m not even aware of the character having any lines. It kind of works though, he’s supposed to be “above” everybody, so having him as this unseen presence makes him feel bigger and more important. If you actually saw the character and he was underwhelming, it would underwhelm the whole premise. It is a decision that does risk annoying some people, and hasn’t gone down well with some reviewers, but like I said, for me, it works. You don’t really miss him as a character, and there are only a few scenes where it’s obvious that they’re deliberately not showing him.
With no Jordan, it’s left to others to pick up the mantle: the employees of the Nike basketball division, Michael Jordan’s family, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (middle eastern geography joke!). The ensemble cast is like a dream team of “I like them, but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be a massive dick” (with the exception of Viola Davis who is genuinely one of the best performers in the world at the moment). Nobody is really testing their acting abilities here, everybody is playing a character similar to what they would play in almost anything else. Ben Affleck plays a Shouty Man who remembers where he came from, Matt Damon plays his friend who is idealistic, and Jason Bateman plays someone who is sarcastic. I mean, they do their jobs well, so it’s hard to find fault with that, but you don’t come out of this particularly impressed with any of them? The characters? Yes, very well written, which is a good thing as the film would fall apart without that. Let’s face it, it’s not as though Air can depend on the plot to carry it. I’m not saying the plot is bad, but it’s a foregone conclusion so it does lack the suspense that audiences may want. Face facts, nobody is watching this film thinking “Oh no, I wonder whether these *checks notes* Air Jordan shoes will ever get made? I just don’t know. Also, why am I carrying notes in a movie theatre? And how am I able to read them so clearly in a dark room?”. In a lesser film that lack of suspense would harm it, but in this it’s oddly not an issue. That’s probably because of how good the writing is, it’s fascinating to watch everything play out.
Despite the fact it is a Ben Affleck movie, it doesn’t really feel like his previous work, for one thing, there’s no crime. Still a lot of swearing though, a distracting amount at times. Mostly it’s okay and makes sense in the scene and for the characters, but there are a few times where it feels a bit gratuitous, which is a shame as mostly the dialogue is incredible. The dialogue is so good that it feels like it hasn’t been written. All of it is so natural and effortless that if someone told me it was ad-libbed I’d believe them.
The other thing to appreciate is the pacing. It’s almost 2 hours long, but you’d never guess. There are no moments where you sit there looking at your watch wondering when it’s going to be over. The whole thing is so quick that it feels over quicker than my interest in watching an actual game of basketball. It is weird to watch a film where Nike is pitched as a plucky underdog though.
I’m going to end this with a positive. There’s a scene in this where Damon’s character is telling Jordan’s parents about how the career of Jordan will go. It’s an incredibly powerful piece of writing talking about how the public reacts to fame; how they build people up into an impossible ideal and then criticise them for not being able to live up to it. It’s intercut with high (and low)lights from his life; his career, his playing basketball, and his father’s death (although it is weird that this is the only reference the film makes to that, with it being curiously missing from the “what happened next” montage at the end). It is one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen, but it does make the rest of the film seem worse by comparison, which is a shame.
So in summary, go see this. It’s not likely to end up on any “best of” lists at the end of the year, but it will be one you’ll think warm thoughts of if you see it mentioned. It’s one you’ll definitely think of buying if you see it cheap enough, and if it’s on netflix, it’s getting watched.