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  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Forget all the capitalism and revel in old-fashioned moviemaking with Ben Affleck’s frisky answer to Moneyball

Ben Affleck’s throwback-feeling dramatisation of Nike’s attempts to win Michael Jordan’s endorsement in 1984 positively floats along on an air cushion of crackling dialogue, zippy camerawork and some scenery chewing performances – not least, from Affleck himself as Nike’s poor-little-rich-kid founder Phil Knight. It’s Sad Affleck made flesh and it’s worth the ticket price alone.

Providing a steady anchor for some of the showier performances to orbit around is his old Good Will Hunting bestie Matt Damon as paunchy Nike basketball savant Sonny Vaccaro, ‘the Mr Miyagi of college basketball’. 

A gambler by nature, the real Vaccaro was the man who urged Nike to shift from road running shoes and into the NBA business by signing Jordan, a college superstar, as the new face of the brand. The challenge? Converse and Jordan’s own favourites, Adidas, were both ahead in the queue for his signature. (As a scene-setting caption reveals, Converse had three times Nike’s market share at the time. Yes, we’re going with Nike as the plucky underdog.)

Damon fuels Vaccaro with an almost spiritual belief in the young Jordan (played by Damian Delano Young, but barely seen). That zeal sweeps Chris Tucker’s wary VP and Jason Bateman’s dubious marketing guy along in its wake, and even bulldozes Jordan’s pitbull agent (Chris Messina, shouting ‘I will eat your balls!’ with Oscar-worthy gusto). 

With its late-night marketing confabs, conference room presentations and stats on units shifted, Affleck’s fifth directorial effort could – and probably should – feel like a queasy hymn to capitalism. But Air harks back to more innocent times, full of fair-minded people weighed down by believable pressures and problems. And in Viola Davis as Jordan’s fierce and savvy mum, Deloris, it has a vital, disruptive counterpoint to its power structures: a strong Black woman determined not to undersell her son and his gifts.

Affleck goes full Office Space as the brilliant, contradictory and faintly absurd Nike CEO

It also helps that Alex Convery’s quickfire screenplay sells the stakes so effectively, while cutting them with a pisstakey on-the-hoofness. Much of it radiates from Affleck going full Office Space as the brilliant, contradictory and faintly absurd Knight, a Buddhist who drives a Porsche and whose love of a spiritual aphorism provokes groans from his staff. 

A mostly CG-free, witty, grown-up drama that revels in strong, propulsive storytelling? Sometimes they do make ’em like they used to.

In cinemas worldwide now.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Ben Affleck
  • Screenwriter:Alex Convery
  • Cast:
    • Ben Affleck
    • Matt Damon
    • Chris Messina
    • Chris Tucker
    • Jason Bateman
    • Viola Davis
    • Matthew Maher
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