Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 21, 2023)
Because Ben Affleck and Matt Damon came to fame via their co-written/co-starring 1997 hit Good Will Hunting, they remain joined at the hip in the public mind. However, the longtime friends haven’t worked together a whole lot over the last 26 years.
Indeed, 2023’s Air offers a unique entry in their shared filmography because Affleck directed it. While Damon and Affleck reunited to write and act in 2019’s The Last Duel, Air represents to the first time Affleck directed his buddy.
In 1984, Nike owns a good share of the running shoe market but they can’t make inroads into the sales of sneakers for basketball. On the verge of seeing that division closed, marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) becomes convinced Nike can rebound if they sign newly-drafted Chicago Bull Michael Jordan as spokesman.
For a wide variety of reasons, this seems like a tough – or impossible – sell, but Vaccaro perseveres. He plugs away relentlessly to sign Jordan and lead to the creation of the “Air Jordan” sneaker.
Air came as part of an unrelated series of 2023 movies that revolve around products. In addition, we found films about the creation of the BlackBerry device and the Tetris videogame.
Air stands out among these due to the talent involved. In addition to Affleck and Damon, the cast involves folks like Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans and Chris Messina.
Of course, Air isn’t really “about” a sneaker. It offers a tale of Vaccaro’s gamble and indomitable will to push toward his goal.
In that regard, Affleck delivers an engaging and affable story, one that seems likely to please crowds. Affleck doesn’t provide a dark trek through the subject matter, as he prefers to keep things pretty light, even when Vaccaro hits his darkest moments.
This seems like a good choice for the most part, though Affleck’s “hey man, it’s the 80s!” tone grows old. We get incessant cultural references that eventually become a chore.
Affleck seems to think that if he doesn't refer to circa 1984 culture every 3 minutes, we'll forget the year. This happens a lot with movies set in the 1980s, as filmmakers revel in the excesses of the era and shove those down our throats too often.
I also think we get far too many winking nods toward what we know now vs. what the participants knew then. Air clearly plays on the audience’s awareness of reality over the 39 years between the movie’s events and the film’s release.
We can swallow a little of this, but Air just pours on too much of this form of “hindsight commentary”. Though it creates some laughs, it seems somewhat irritating at times.
Nonetheless, I admit Air goes down easy and delivers a fun ride. Nothing here creates a serious, impactful flick, but the end result brings a lot of life to the proceedings.
As such, even with some of my criticisms, Air turns into a bubbly and enjoyable little journey. I’d like something that works a bit less hard to make the audience love it, but the film still entertains.