review – air

I always recommend that you see a movie in a movie theater on a big screen. In the past, I have gone out of my way to see a movie when it was playing at only one or two theaters in the city. For this movie, I would still recommend that you see it in a movie theater, but if you can’t I don’t think it’s a big loss. There are no big action scenes, and no beautiful cinematography – unless you like décor and products from the 80s. The majority of this movie is conversations. Some are over the phone and others are in person. The person I saw this movie with commented that if you just listened to an audio recording of the movie you wouldn’t miss much of the story.

There is nothing wrong with having a movie with nothing but conversations. There are several plays and movies that I love which are just people talking. Except for musicals, almost all plays are just people having conversations There are also great movies that are entirely just conversations such as “12 Angry Men”. However, first time screenwriter Alex Convery doesn’t write dialogue that keeps the conversations engaging. At times, he tries to mimic other screenwriters dialogue – especially Aaron Sorkin – but he’s not as experienced.

Somewhat like the Academy award winning “Argo”, this movie is based on a true story that happened when director and star Ben Affleck was young. This time it’s 1984 when Nike wasn’t popular with basketball players. The big basketball stars like Magic Johnson usually made an endorsement deal with Nike’s competitors Adidas or Converse. Nike would use their budget to attract 3 or 4 less popular basketball players to endorse their products. However, that year, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) gets very interested in rookie Michael Jordan who was just drafted to the NBA to play with the Chicago Bulls.

When Sonny recommends using their entire budget of $250 thousand to sign just one rookie basketball player, others are skeptical including Nike marketing director Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), and – most importantly – Michael Jordan. According to everyone Sonny speaks to, Michael is a die-hard Adidas fan. He wasn’t even interested in taking a meeting with Nike.

After getting nowhere with Michael’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina), Sonny must figure out another way to convince Michael. Howard White (Chris Tucker) – who will eventually be Vice President of the entire Jordan brand at Nike – and George Raveling (Marlon Wayans) – the Olympic basketball coach and friend of Michael Jordan – suggest contacting Michael’s mother Delores (Viola Davis). So, Sonny travels to Michael’s home to speak to Delores in person in their backyard.

Once he convinces Delores to meet with Nike, the next step is convincing them to sign with Nike. Sonny, Rob, Phil, and Nike shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) – the man credited with naming the shoe “Air Jordan” and later created the Air Jordan logo – spend the entire weekend working on the prototype shoe and planning out the meeting.

If you have even the slightest interest in Michael Jordan or basketball, you know how this story ends (if you don’t have any interest in basketball, then this movie is probably not for you). So, director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery tries to keep the story engaging by adding a lot of references to the 80s – some of which have nothing to do with the plot. For example, in almost every transition between scenes a somewhat random pop song from the 80s plays and popular culture items from the 80s are shown. Some of the time, the song and the pop culture doesn’t have anything to do with the plot or with Michael Jordan.

Some things mentioned in the script that don’t have anything to do with the plot include how Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” isn’t really a pro-America song (which is true) and how Martin Luther King Jr gave his written “I Have a Dream” speech to George Raveling but the speech didn’t have the “I Have a Dream” line in it (a true story according to what I’ve read). Alex Convery seems to be trying to copy other screenwriters like Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin who has filled their scripts with pop culture references, but he isn’t as skilled as writing dialogue as the other award-winning screenwriters are. Sometimes I would start wondering things like why are they talking about the song “Born in the USA”?

Despite the dialogue – or maybe because Alex Convery has said that Ben Affleck was OK with actors improvising some of their lines – some of the scenes in the movie are very engaging. There are a few good scenes with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Chris Messina yelling at Matt Damon is very funny and reminds me of the award-winning Jeremy Piven playing Ari Gold in the TV show and movie “Entourage” (I believe the Ari Gold character was partly inspired by agents such as the real David Falk). Viola Davis – who Michael Jordan personally recommended to play his mother in the movie according to what I’ve read – always holds your attention no matter who she is speaking to. In this movie, her character is somewhat like Will Smith’s Academy Award winning role as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard”.

Another thing I didn’t like about this movie is the scene with an actor playing Michael Jordan. Ben Affleck has said that he didn’t want to show an actor playing Michael Jordan because there’s really no one that can fill his shoes and – as he told Michael Jordan – Michael is too old to play himself in the movie. All the basketball footage shown in the movie is real footage of Michael Jordan playing. However, there is an actor playing Michael Jordan – Damian Young – in one scene. You only see him from the back even when he should be facing forward.

He seems to be oddly fascinated with the pictures on the wall behind him in the Nike conference room. I think this is a misstep. I think the scene would have been a lot better if they had played the whole conference room scene from Michael Jordans point of view. That way you still don’t have an actor playing Michael Jordan, but he is the focus of the scene – which he should be. There are a few moments in the scene that seem to be his POV, but the rest of the scene is shots of him from the back. If they had filmed the entire scene from his POV I think it could have been the best scene in the whole movie.

The biggest problem I had with this movie is the same problem I have for several other movies based on a true story. Some of the scenes DIDN’T REALLY HAPPEN. Especially a key scene in the movie where Sonny goes to Michael Jordans home to speak to his mother. According to what I’ve read, he never did that. Also, Michael Jordans agent doesn’t want Michael to meet with Nike in the movie. According to what I read, the real David Falk wanted Michael Jordan to sign with a company that would uniquely market him, and he thought that Nike could be a good choice.

Overall, the script isn’t good enough to hold your interest, the directing isn’t good enough to watch it on a big screen (although I still recommend that you do that), and some of the story isn’t what really happened. The movie has a lot of great actors, but the rest of the movie isn’t so great.

I give it 3 out of 10 stars.