In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not into basketball and I’ve never owned a pair of Air Jordan athletic shoes. For me, March Madness is just a month-long disruption of television programming. Love me, hate me, I’m just being honest.
So, when I saw the trailers for Air a few months ago, I had a very mixed reaction. On the negative side, it was about basketball and athletic shoes. On the positive side, I recognized that it was about the greatest basketball player of all time (I don’t live under a rock) and the most successful pair of athletic shoes ever created or marketed. My background was in advertising for many years, so there was a built-in interest in this world-wide phenomenon that shook the earth like a massive advertising asteroid. That caught my interest.
In addition to that, there was the teaming of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon whose creative partnership is nothing less than impressive. They were a powerhouse partnership from the very beginning with the Oscar winning movie Good Will Hunting (1997). Both have had successful careers in front of the camera and behind it (Affleck has become a very successful director). Their involvement in this project grabbed my attention.
It’s a great story we are all somewhat familiar with—the world’s greatest basketball player before he became famous, and the feeding frenzy that was triggered when he decided to turn pro.
You didn’t have to be a genius to know there was a ton of money to be made. He was destined to be the greatest player on the court who ever lived. His fame would be something the likes of which the world had never seen.
It looked like a titan tug of war between Adidas and Converse, the two leading sports apparel companies at the time. As hard as it is to believe, in those days, Nike was just a struggling, upstart enterprise trying to find their niche, make a mark and establish and promote their brand.
At first, the idea of acquiring Michael Jordan was beyond their wildest dreams. He was plainly, simply and literally, out of their league.
But then came Sonny Vacarro who saw something in Jordan’s game videos that seemed to escape everyone’s attention. It was a confidence and coolness that offered a glimpse into his staggering, untapped talent.
Matt Damon brings Sonny to the screen, a man who sees greatness and has the Herculean task of convincing his peers (Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser) and his boss (Ben Affleck as Phil Knight) that Michael Jordan was the prodigy they needed to risk everything to acquire, against all odds and against the harsh reality of cut-throat, multi-million-dollar big business.
What stood in their way was the arrogance and dismissive indifference of Jordan’s agent, David Falk (played with gusto by Chris Massina). He’s the man who knows Nike has no right to be a player in the high-end, high-stakes negotiations. For him, Nike is an annoyance to be insultingly brushed aside and shaken off.
Then there is the even greater obstacle of Michael Jordan’s mom (played by Viola Davis) who is both shrewd and calculating in the protection of her son and his future. She knows that Michael will be the New Messiah of the sport (perhaps of all sports) whose career will be the stuff of towering legend.
As a caring mother, she is determined to look out for his best interest. She is on a mission to guarantee Michael will not be a victim of his own success, exploited by the mega-companies purporting to do what is best for him.
It’s a great story. As I’ve said many times before, great movies are about great stories. All the special effects and celebrity stars in the world are no substitute for a compelling, rock-solid story, and that is the real strength of Air.
Affleck and Damon know what works. In this case, it’s an air-tight script that runs like a fine Swiss timepiece. The script masterfully sets up the world as it existed back in 1984 with all the pop culture elements that define the times.
Music plays a large part making this time-trip work. Once there, characters are quickly established, the premise is brilliantly set up and the movie is off and running.
It would seem Air is an instant hit with critics and audiences alike. There is nothing not to like. Granted, it’s a story with an ending we already know when we walk in the theater. But like all successful movies such as this, it draws us in and makes us experience the tale moment by moment. We become lost in the narrative, we allow ourselves to forget the outcome and become absorbed in the surprises and plot twists that immerse us in suspense.
The power of movies like this is they never afford you a moment to remind yourself that everything works out OK in the end. They make you believe they somehow might not.
Air is in theaters now.