Review: It’s all up in ‘Air’

Movie details story behind greatest endorsement deal in history


Amazon Studios

Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Viola Davis star in “Air,” landing soon on Amazon Prime Video.

Margaret Edmonson, Adviser

Matt Damon as talent scout Sonny Vacarro in “Air” bears a striking resemblance to Matt Damon as American car designer Carroll Shelby in “Ford versus Ferrari.”

One man in pursuit of an impossible goal.

Shelby sought to build a Ford race car that would beat Ferrari at LeMans. (He had some help from driver Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale in one of his finest acting performances.)

Vacarro wanted to sign Michael Jordan to an endorsement that would keep Nike in the basketball shoe market.

Spoiler alert: They both succeeded.

Directed by Damon’s friend Ben Affleck, “Air” tells the story of how Nike courted a professional basketball rookie to sign the most successful endorsement deal in history.

Vacarro’s drive and guts make him a formidable recruiter in the race to sign Jordan to a basketball shoe endorsement deal. The new Chicago Bull rookie favors Adidas, so Vacarro goes to two higher sources: Jordan’s Olympic team coach George Raveling (Marlan Wayans) and the star’s mom Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis). When Adidas makes a counter offer of Nike’s asking price plus a Mercedes Benz, Deloris Jordan strikes the bargain of her son’s lifetime by asking for a percentage of the sales of all shoes bearing her son’s name.

Affleck embraces the role of kooky Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, and proves once again he can hold his own against the force of Damon’s acting. Jason Bateman (“Ozark” and “Arrested Development”) rips new slices of sarcasm and wit as marketing director Rob Strasser.

Just when the viewer starts to believe the show focuses on Damon, Davis steals it with that presence that says she means business (“The Help” and “The Woman King”). When she steps into a room of executives offering her son money beyond his wildest dreams, Davis takes command and control. No one doubts who is in charge – even the kid signing the contract.

Even though the entire movie revolves around Jordan, the audience never sees his face. Damian Delano Young’s back and profile fill in for the the basketball superstar. Affleck said putting Jordan’s face in the movie would detract from the story and the people who made the deal happen.

Footage of the real Jordan paying tribute to his mother adds a heartfelt touch and a reminder of the role she played in his life.

Producers originally planned for “Air” to be released to Amazon Prime Video for streaming, but it got such rave reviews, they sent it to movie theaters. The film will air on Amazon Prime starting May 12.