Maverick Life


‘Air’ directed by Ben Affleck – an unlikely biopic to take flight

‘Air’ directed by Ben Affleck – an unlikely biopic to take flight
Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in AIR. (Photo: Ana Carballosa © Amazon Content Sservices LLC)

Ben Affleck’s all-star sports biopic on the creation of Nike’s iconic Air Jordan shoe is corporate propaganda, but the real-life underdog tale still delivers entertainment.

If it feels like the all-star sports biopic Air was in cinemas just yesterday, you’re not far off. Initially released just more than a month ago, on 7 April, Air is already streaming worldwide on Amazon’s Prime Video. The question now, as then, is whether actor-filmmaker Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort is worth watching.

Considering that Air is, in essence, about making and marketing a shoe, the answer is, surprisingly, yes. Even if you aren’t a sneakerhead, Air offers a compelling tale about the real-life events that led to the creation of Nike’s Air Jordan, the iconic basketball shoe that is as popular today as it was when released almost 40 years ago. The fact that the outcome of Air is a foregone conclusion – the audience knows from the start how things will turn out – makes the film’s engrossing nature an even greater achievement. 

Key to Air’s success is that Affleck and Co make the audience care. They downplay boardroom wheeling and dealing and instead put a human face on the all-around gamble, in 1984, to make untested NBA rookie Michael Jordan the face of Nike’s then struggling basketball line. 

Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro and Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan in ‘Air’. (Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios © Amazon Content Services LLC)

Leading the charge in this endeavour is Nike’s talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), who has an unshakeable feeling about Jordan’s potential, backed up by his harried division heads Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Howard White (Chris Tucker). Meanwhile, Nike co-founder and CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) vacillates as he has to answer to the company board. The issue is that, perceptually, Nike is a running shoe, and Jordan wants to sign with more successful and cooler competitors Adidas and Converse. To sway Jordan, Vaccaro will have to win over the player’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis), and that means offering something much more meaningful than a standard sponsorship contract. That something was to be a game changer.

You can file Air alongside Tetris, and the upcoming Flamin’ Hot, an odd new subgenre of biographical films that have sprung up during Last Stage Capitalism to celebrate the little guys in the business – the likeable risk-takers and rule-breakers behind products that were to become cultural phenomena. If you’re cynical, you can view these movies as a feel-good counterbalance to a reality where employees (even the best and most loyal) are instantly dispensable in their hundreds to thousands when a corporation’s profitability goals are off by a few percentage points.

Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro and Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser in ‘Air’. (Photo: Ana Carballosa © Amazon Content Services LLC)

Air Ben Affleck

Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro and Chris Tucker as Howard White in ‘Air’. (Photo: Ana Carballosa © Amazon Content Sservices LLC)

It’s hard to argue that the real-life figures in Air aren’t given a rose-tinted treatment on screen. They’re all assigned weaknesses and struggles, but at the end of the day, they’re good, upright guys striving for things like fairness and protection of those whose livelihoods depend on their actions. Hell, our heroes even have a literal wall of business principles to operate by. So, if you take a step back, Air feels like an unveiled exercise in generating brand goodwill for Nike. And probably Amazon too to a certain degree, by association with the project.

Even if your eyes are open to all of this, though, Air is still an emotional and entertaining winner – surprisingly energetic given its subject matter (and all its phone conversations), well acted by its ensemble cast and given extra charm by its pitch-perfect reflection of a past era, especially in terms of its music choices. A genuine crowd-pleaser for adults. DM

This story was first published on

Air is available in South Africa on Prime Video.


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