AIR (2023) review – Affleck + Damon hit the bullseye with a riveting Air Jordan origin story


I can’t imagine a time when Nike wasn’t such a sports brand juggernaut, but AIR’s insightful exposition that double as an homage to the 80s reveals how Nike was an underdog shoe company back in 1984. Converse, which is now owned by Nike, had the largest market share, followed by Adidas with 29% and Nike only had a mere 17%. As with many stories of greatness, it always takes a visionary to turn things around, someone with gut instincts so keen it’s as if he could see the future. Who knew that signing an NBA rookie and building a shoe around him would be such a game-changer?

Oscar-winning duo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reunite on the screen once again since 2021’s The Last Duel, with Affleck in the director’s chair once again since Live By Night in 2016. The screenplay by Alex Convery was on 2021’s Black List, originally titled Air Jordan. It centers more on the business side of landing that make-or-break deal than the game of basketball, which surprisingly is as riveting as an NBA Finals championship.

Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, who in the mid-80s was working at Nike’s fledgling basketball division in dire need of a real star to endorse their product. As the founder and owner of a youth basketball camp, where the biggest NBA greats like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James got their start, Vaccaro can spot talent like nobody’s business. So when he spotted young Michael Jordan during Final Four in New Orleans in 1982, he thought a star was born and was convinced he found the one. The tricky part is, he needed to convince Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight (Affleck) and the marketing team to agree on not just signing a rookie but also risking their entire $250k budget on just one player. Even their competitors weren’t doing that.


It doesn’t matter that I’m not a basketball fan, as the script puts it on layman’s terms and focuses on the journey to get this seemingly preposterous vision to life. Just like the sport, it also moves at a nimble pace even when the scene consists of people bantering with each other. Within 15 minutes, we’ve got Matt and Ben together as Sonny tries to sell his idea to Phil who naturally is skeptical. Now, Sonny’s primary job at Nike was to sign top college coaches, as he knows a bunch of them through his youth camp because those coaches are the ones with the major influence to get their players to wear certain brands.


Despite one opposition after another, ‘Don’t confuse desperation as vision’ someone tells him during his pitch, Sonny just wouldn’t budge. After 20+ years in the business, he’s never had a feeling like this and he’s even willing to stake his own salary on it. He believes the then 18-year-old is the key to bringing Nike’s basketball division out of the slump. When Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) laughs at Sonny’s proposition and refuses to even get him in a meeting with his client, he decides to take matters into his own hands. After consulting with Nike executive Howard White (Chris Tucker), he decides to meet with Jordan’s parents all the way in North Carolina. Apparently, when Affleck consulted Michael Jordan about this film, his only request was that Viola Davis plays his mother, Deloris. Well, she certainly honors that responsibility and does Deloris justice with her powerful and heartfelt performance. It’s extra sweet to see her real-life husband Julius Tennon play her movie husband too.


The scene between Damon and Davis is a potent emotional bit in the movie. Deloris turns the table and warmly asks probing questions about Sonny’s family to find out about his character. It’s the heart and soul of the movie as it’s really about a mother’s love for her son. What she cares most about is Jordan’s well-being and legacy, so obviously not just someone who’s in it for the money like his agent. The line “A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps into it” is powerful and pretty much sums up the main theme of the film.

Though the subject matter isn’t exactly comedic, there are plenty of moments of levity and even laugh-out-loud moments. I cackled when Sonny puts on a German accent mocking the Adidas execs. The whole bit about Sonny telling Deloris exactly what to expect at the Converse and Adidas meeting is funny, but also tells us the extent of his gut instincts and belief in Jordan. In the end, Sonny’s intuition about how Nike’s competitors perceive Jordan proves to be spot on. With other shoe brands, Jordan was going to be just another famous athlete with a shoe deal, instead of being the first athlete who has an entire shoe line built around him.


With his fifth feature film, Affleck is back on the top of his directing game. This is the first non-crime-related movie and one that can be categorized as a crowd-pleaser. I always think he’s a much better director than an actor and I still stand by that. Now, he’s certainly done memorable supporting turns in various movies, including this one. There’s a dynamic energy to his direction here, firing on all cylinders from start to finish, aided by masterful editing work by William Goldenberg who also won an Oscar for ARGO.

Affleck’s decision not to show the actor playing young Michael Jordan is a wise one as he’s the most famous athlete in the world. Anyone playing him would be scrutinized to death and his appearance would surely take us out of the movie. DP Robert Richardson had to maneuver his camera in such a way as to not capture an actor’s face, though we do see him from the sides and back.


Of course, the fantastic ensemble cast helped bring this extraordinary story to life. Damon is always believable playing an ‘everyman’ and he really shines here as an intense but sympathetic middle-aged guy with a beer belly. He doesn’t look at all like the real-life Sonny Vaccaro but that hardly matters as he captures the essence of his character. His ardent, go-for-broke speech at the pivotal meeting with Jordan and his parents had me tearing up. A lot of sports-themed films can feel manipulative but that’s not the case here.

Chris Tucker is fun to watch as Howard White, it’s the first time I’ve seen him since those Rush Hour movies, while Jason Bateman and Matthew Maher portray two key players at Nike, VP of Marketing Rob Strasser and Peter Moore, the shoe designer responsible for making the iconic Air Jordan. While Damon and Davis are the MVPs of the movie, I have to say Chris Messina walks away as the scene stealer with his hilarious foul-mouthed phone rant at Sonny.


In many ways, AIR is a sports underdog drama that shines a light on Sonny’s legacy and how this Nike deal upholds the value of an athlete in terms of product endorsements. I realize that there are plenty of artistic liberties taken, but it does offer some interesting facts about Nike and the whole athletic footwear industry. As someone who doesn’t care about what brand of sneakers I buy so long as they’re comfortable, I find this whole thing quite fascinating.

AIR has the ingredients for a truly rousing movie and Affleck and the ensemble team did not squander them. They’re able to keep this kinetic movie under 2 hours too, that alone is quite a feat! It won’t be hyperbolic to say this is one of the best movies of the year so far. I walk away feeling inspired and entertained in equal measure.

4.5/5 stars

Have you seen AIR movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

12 thoughts on “AIR (2023) review – Affleck + Damon hit the bullseye with a riveting Air Jordan origin story

  1. I do want to see this though I am aware it is likely coming to Amazon Prime soon as I want to see this at home as I got a ticket for John Wick 4 this coming Saturday.

  2. I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since Affleck directed a film, Live By Night was kind of his mini downfall after his big comeback. That film’s failure was all on him, he starred, wrote and directed the film and it’s trifecta of failure. Lol!

    I don’t follow the NBA anymore, used to watch it back in my younger years and I always cheered again Air Jordan, he’s too damn good and I wanted to see his lose. Ha ha! But I’ll watch this film and anything with Viola Davis, I’ll watch it. She’s like Gene Hackman to me now. Whatever she’s in, it’s always watchable.

    1. I haven’t seen Live By Night but I might check it out at some point. Well, good thing he keeps directing despite that failure, as he’s back on top again here.

      You’re right about Viola Davis who’s so fantastic in any role. Speaking of Gene Hackman, it’s sad to see him being a recluse lately and he’s lost a lot of weight.

      1. Live By Night was kind of all over the place. I think Affleck should’ve let another writer or two get a pass at it. He tried to make the film into this epic gangsta tale like The Godfather but it was kind of a mess.

        I did see Hackman’s recent photos and it’s sad how skinny he looks, but he’s getting up there in age.

  3. Pingback: Alliance Lately: Issue No. 74 – The Minnesota Film Critics Alliance

  4. Pingback: #MSPIFF42 Review: FLAMIN’ HOT – Eva Longoria’s directorial debut is a zesty feel-good movie with an empowering message – FLIXCHATTER FILM BLOG

  5. Pingback: FLAMIN’ HOT – Eva Longoria’s directorial debut is a zesty feel-good movie with an empowering message – FLIXCHATTER FILM BLOG – Motube

Join the conversation by leaving a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s