Ben Affleck’s Story of Michael Jordan and Nike Is a Slam Dunk

Apr 4, 2023

Ben Affleck deserves more credit. The actor/writer/director has gotten an unfair amount of crap over the decades, from the ebbs and flows of his acting career to becoming a favorite of the paparazzi, but the work Affleck has done over three decades is truly impressive. As an actor, he’s worked with directors like Richard Linklater, Gus Van Sant, Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott, and David Fincher. As a writer, his first produced screenplay, Good Will Hunting, won Affleck a Best Original Screenplay Oscar alongside Matt Damon, and, in addition to writing his last three directorial efforts, he teamed back up with Damon and with Nicole Holofcener on the criminally underrated The Last Duel.

And as a director, Affleck has given us the type of adult dramas that we rarely see anymore on the screen, films that stick with you long after they’re over, yet, somehow, remain crowd-pleasing—films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and the Best Picture Oscar-winning Argo. Sure, this is the guy who loves Dunkin’ Donuts with an unshakable passion, and has had some high-profile romances, but Affleck’s work is impeccable at this point. Seven years after his only swing-and-a-miss as a director, 2016’s Live by Night, Affleck returns as director with Air, an excellent example of Affleck’s gifts as a filmmaker, a film that despite largely taking place in boardrooms and over phone calls, becomes one of the best films of 2023 so far, a compelling story that keeps us on the edge of our seats, despite us knowing exactly how this story will end.

Set in the mid-1980s, Air shows us a time when Nike was only the third-biggest shoe company in the world, trailing behind Converse and Adidas, and attempting to make their name in basketball shoes—and considering closing down the division altogether. While most of the basketball side of Nike wants to attempt to get several iffy NBA players signed to Nike, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), wants to sign one rookie: Michael Jordan. Sonny sees something in Jordan that no one else sees yet, and knows that using Nike’s entire basketball shoe budget to get Jordan will be, well, a slam dunk. The only problem Sonny has is trying to convince Nike to make the biggest deal they’ve ever made for a shoe, and convince Jordan—who has no interest in Nike—to come over to a company that is third best.

Image via Amazon Studios

RELATED: The True Story Behind Ben Affleck’s Next Directorial Feature ‘Air’

Much like Affleck’s other films, Air has an incredible cast all the way down the line. In recent years, Damon has become the ideal actor at this type of role, playing characters that seem to be able to predict the future of whatever medium he’s thrown into (see also: Ford v Ferrari), but also showing a passion and sense of humor that makes him such an engaging lead. Jason Bateman is excellent as Rob Strasser, Nike’s advertising manager who Sonny convinces to help in his wild scheme early on, and Affleck perfectly chose himself to play the head of Nike, Phil Knight. Even in smaller roles, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, and especially a loud-mouth Chris Messina, each get their own moments to steal this film right out from under the lead actors. This is especially true of Viola Davis, who plays Michael’s mother, Dolores Jordan, at the request of Michael himself. In a way, Davis almost plays the audience surrogate, as she and the audience both know the power and brilliance that her son has on the court, and we know he’s worth every penny that she fights for in her son’s name.

The feature film debut of writer Alex Convery, Air’s screenplay could easily be criticized for essentially being built around characters giving grandiose, motivational speeches about the power of greatness, or the power of taking a chance, yet Air never gets overwhelmed by these monologues. Instead, since we know where this story goes, these moments have a surprising amount of impact, as we know that we’re watching these people do everything they can to help one of the greatest athletes of all time achieve his potential. Convery and Affleck do all of this, creating a story that feels grand, despite often taking place in less-than-impressive offices and in conversations that largely center around how to make an excellent shoe—that they don’t realize will change the history of footwear forever.

Image via Amazon Studios

Again, as with Affleck’s other films, Air feels like the type of film that we don’t really see too often anymore. Air is inspirational, and moving, and deeply funny, all while exploring people who are simply good at their jobs trying to do what’s right. It sounds simple, but it’s anything but, in order to make a story like this as exciting as it ends up being. Affleck and Convery know exactly how to handle this story and still make it looks easy. For example, Affleck makes the smart choice in not ever showing Michael Jordan’s face. Jordan is a presence that looms large over all these characters, and while he interacts with the cast and this story, Affleck knows that showcasing Jordan any more than he does would dare to take the focus away from the larger story at hand. Similarly, he knows just how to use the supporting cast, never overdoing it with the performances by Davis or Messina that could threaten to steal the story away from Damon’s Sonny. It’s a masterful balancing act that Affleck handles perfectly.

It would be hyperbolic for sure to say that Affleck is the Jordan of this type of crowd-pleasing, mature filmmaking, but he’s certainly one of the best at it. As Sonny shows us early on when trying to get Nike invested in Jordan, he knows that Jordan has an ease on the court, that he makes it all seem so easy, despite the tension and pressure that any other player would feel. Similarly, Affleck makes Air look easy, a director who knows exactly what he’s doing, and knows how to build anticipation, work our excitement, and tell a story about a shoe that is truly enthralling and gripping.

Rating: B+

Air comes to theaters on April 5.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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