Save the Last Dance is widely considered to be one of the best sports documentaries ever. At the very least it’s one of the most entertaining. With docu-dramas all the rage these days, it’s not hard to imagine Michael Jordan being the subject of one such film. However, what may be a little less believable is a docu-drama about Jordan’s signature shoe brand, Air Jordan. That’s exactly what Air is about. How the Air Jordan shoes came into being.
Shoe culture has always been a thing, but these days it’s on a whole different level. The prices of shoes continue to rise, as does the difficulty in obtaining them. From $15,000 Sailor Moon boots, to the latest from your favorite sports star, shoe culture is widespread. But the shoes that may be most coveted by the shoe aficionados are the original releases and re-releases of the various Air Jordan styles.
Ben Affleck stars as Nike founder Phil Knight, and director Air, the story of how Nike signed Michael Jordan to a deal that would forever change the sports licensing industry. All of the Nike employees under Knight are played by equally stellar actors, including Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, Chris Tucker as Howard White, Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser, and then Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother, Deloris. Michael Jordan does appear, played by Damian Delano Young, but he only speaks one word (over the phone), and you never see his face.
Deloris Jordan is the star of Air. When Michael was younger, it was Deloris who handled most of his business deals to ensure he got a fair shake. Sonny Vaccaro had to convince Deloris if he wanted to sign Michael, and that’s essentially what the movie is about. The cast goes above and beyond to sell their roles, and it works wonderfully. Hopefully the Academy takes note because some of the performances definitely deserve recognition.
Affleck makes every effort to convince the audience the film takes place in 1984, adding an opening montage of classic 1980s moments, and hammering the idea home with popular 80s songs throughout. By the third or fourth song, it starts to get a bit tiresome, but children of the 80s will likely enjoy the musical selections. For the rest of us it may be a bit heavy handed, and sometimes the music feels out of place.
While there’s plenty of emotion in Air, and casual moviegoers will likely eat it up, it felt a bit hollow. Yes, Jordan’s deal changed how athletes get paid for endorsement deals. Yes, Deloris was a force to be reckoned with, and Sonny Vaccaro had to go above and beyond to win her over. But at the end of the day, this is still a story about shoes.
The way this shoe deal is treated throughout the movie just felt like an over-sell. Looking back on the deal, it was revolutionary, but at the time it didn’t have anywhere near the gravitas the film would like to make you think it did. According to the movie, Nike paid Jordan $250,000 plus royalties for the first year. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, the Chicago Bulls reportedly paid him $900,000 his rookie season. Royalties aside, that’s almost four times as much as the Nike deal, yet the film makes it seem as though that $250,000 was the end all, be all of Jordan’s career.
It was the royalties aspect of the deal that had a significant impact on history, but that doesn’t happen until the last five minutes of the movie. The film is all about Nike signing Jordan and saving its basketball division, but it just didn’t feel as genuine as it should have. It’s not the acting, it’s the fact that the movie just doesn’t sell the importance of this. Nike had a great running shoe business at the time, so even if the basketball division suffered, it wouldn’t have been the end for Nike.
Dramatized importance aside, Air is a solid film, especially if you buy into everything the movie is trying to sell (some of the historical facts are incorrect). The lack of Jordan is a bit disappointing, but with Viola Davis and Matt Damon going head to head, it more than makes up for the absence of Michael. The film as a whole likely isn’t Oscar worthy, but the individual performances definitely are.
Synopsis: Follows the history of shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro, and how he led Nike in its pursuit of the greatest athlete in the history of basketball, Michael Jordan.
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer: Alex Convery
Stars: Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Chris Tucker
Runtime: 1 Hour, 52 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.