Ben Affleck’s film is capitalism at its finest

Ben Afflecks Air isn’t a biopic, or at least it’s not the kind of biopic we’re used to seeing. It’s an early rider in a wave of fictional films based on real brands (including the upcoming Blazing hot And blackberry Movies, as well as the current streaming tetris) that could become the new normal. But Airin its narration of Michael Jordan’s staggeringly lucrative venture with Nike to launch the Air Jordan sneaker line feels like a biopic of his investment in “greatness” and a guarantee of a happy ending before one only butt hits a theater seat. (Air is out now.)

To the credit of all involved, that ending — one that Jordan eventually signs with Nike, an underdog brand when it came to the then-rookie basketball star in 1984 — feels well deserved. It was the product of Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro’s ability to predict the future in terms of Jordan’s star power and to market his virtuosity through athletic apparel. “I don’t want to sign three players. I want to sign one I want to sign him,” says Vaccaro of Matt Damon during one of several impassioned speeches he captures Air. “We’re building a footwear collection just around him. We’re tapping into something deeper, the player’s identity, that.” We know where this is headed, and yet the suspense and excitement that builds as Vaccaro seals the deal is a testament to Affleck’s directing talent. Air is a snappy, hilarious, pop culture-obsessed film (it’s really more about the culture of sport than sport itself) that will have people cheering for visionary white male capitalists.

Image for article titled Ben Affleck's'Air' Is a crowd pleaser (especially when the crowd is packed with capitalists)

Picture: Ana Carballosa/Amazon

After heated arguments, Vaccaro was finally joined by his boss Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), his colleague Howard White (Chris Tucker) and Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck). As a knight whose Buddhist sentiments are undercut by his purple Porsche, Affleck effectively memes himself, walking around in a curly wig, sometimes in dope Oakleys and a tracksuit. Affleck is someone who understands that power of his own image. One shot finds his knight barefoot in his office with his feet up on his desk — a mock Tarantino setup that Affleck takes a step further than Tarantino ever did by exploiting himself.

Convincing Jordan to sign with Nike while being courted by then more successful brands Adidas and Converse was no easy feat. Jordan wanted nothing to do with Nike, and then there was the added layer of resistance that was his acting mother, Deloris Jordan (played here by Viola Davis, my queen). Damon’s Vaccaro breaks down her resistance to meeting Nike by harassing her: “I don’t take no for an answer and I think your son should be supported by someone with that attitude,” he explains. He has an argument. In a particularly austere, often succinct portrayal, Davis is as worth seeing as ever, as are almost everyone involved.

Air is simply top-notch content, from the predictable but audience-pleasing arc to the fashionable, Sorkin-esque advice-a-tat of sarcastic dialogue (Chris Messina as Jordan’s agent: “When you walk around me, you make me look ineffective. And if If you end up signing him, I look irrelevant. Well, that’s the worst thing you can do to an agent.” It’s supposed to be my fault.”) The soundtrack is full of obvious ’80s tunes (Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s The Message, Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing) and a few less obvious ones (Chaka Khan and Rufus’s “Ain’t That Nobody”) This is meat-and-potato kino, but the cut is of the highest quality and the potatoes are fried to perfection.

AIR | Official trailer

Affleck’s boldest decision as a filmmaker is not to portray Jordan at all. We only see him from behind and in close-ups, so extreme and out of focus that he’s incognito. He is silent in meetings. To CBS Sunday morningAffleck explained this decision: “This is a film about an icon, about someone who is so important that the moment I show you someone and say, ‘Hey, this is Michael Jordan,’ you’ll just know that It’s not.” That’s probably true, although he risked the deliberate concealment being just as distracting. But it’s not, and a big part of that has to do with the fact that this movie is more about Michael Jordan the idea than it’s Michael Jordan the person. This player’s contract with Nike opened the door for athletes to earn a percentage of the merchandise bearing their name. It is played in the film like the greatest triumph, which is not least due to the insistence of the strong-willed Deloris.

What it means in practical terms, of course, is that it paved the way for it the rich to get richer – in an on-screen pre-credits postscript, we read that Jordan is making about $400 million a year in passive income through his Air Jordans deal. This is the ultimate demonstration of morality in a movie brought to you by Amazon Studios. Yay? Ben Affleck’s film is capitalism at its finest

Adam Bradshaw

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