AIR Review : A slum dunk!

brimming with energy and featuring a delightfully light tone that works its way up to an absolute cheer in the aisles finale

Universal Pictures

Seven years after his last directing venture 2016’s Live By Night missed the hoop by ‘that much’, Ben Affleck makes a bravura return to form with a crowd-pleasing and cleverly crafted underdog tale about the rise of then struggling shoe company NIKE.

Though set primarily in offices, boiler rooms, on the road and in cars, the Argo and Gone Baby Gone director scores the highest score on cinematic board this year with one of the most compelling and broadly appealing dramedies. As an added bonus, he’s packed it with some of today’s best performers and some of yesterday’s most infectious tunes.

It’s 1984, and Nike is bottom of the food chain as far as sports attire company goes. Exec Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), encouraged with hesitation by colleagues – Nike marketing man Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), Nike designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), Howard White, vice president of the Jordan Brand, and Nike founder Phil Knight (Affleck) – decides to risk it all, and max the company budget by attempting to beat Adidas and Converse to sign up basketball rookie Michael Jordan to sponsor their shoe.

Skilfully directed by the Oscar winning screenwriter, and written with real zing by tyro scribe Alex Convery, AIR plays partly like one of Adam McKay’s period pieces on industry highs and lows (The Big Short, Don’t Look Up), and part like Cameron Crowe’s inspiring, sports-agent classic Jerry Maguire (this film also using music and motivational quotes, spliced between pivotal scenes in a similar fashion, to great effect). It’s a much lighter, less ambitious film than Affleck’s previous films but the departure proves the actor, writer, and filmmaker’s natural ability to move genres show’s just how much he’s matured as a moviemaker.

With incredible performances by the core trio of Damon, Affleck and Bateman but also supporting players Tucker, Viola Davis and Chris Messina – watch for those three names come awards season – casting directors Mary Vernieu and Lindsay Graham have more than earnt her crust on the pic, attaching only actors that always perform like their SAG cards depends on it. When Damon’s Sonny delivers a stirring speech, Bateman’s Rob Strasser fears for his future, and Davis’s Dolores Jordan fights for what she believes her gifted son deserves, they don’t need a spell to hold you. You’re so invested in each category’s respective plight that you’ll really feel their losses and further, celebrate their wins – especially the big ones.

We know how it all ends, sure, but Affleck and Oscar winning editor William Goldenberg tell this tale so effectively, and with a roster of well-placed music of the era from the likes of Run DMC, Dire Straits, Mike + The Mechanics, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, REO Speedwagon, and even some instrumental theme tunes (from the likes of Risky Business and Beverly Hills Cop), that it’s not so much about the destination but… well, you know how it goes.

Sure, it’s cold outside and the last thing you want to be doing is skirting about at night, there’s also some great television to be had at home, and let’s admit it, movies don’t take very long to hit streaming apps these days but Affleck’s latest is so damn good, it really is worth voyaging out for – rain, hail and shine. C’mon, just do it.

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