Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s latest collaboration is Air, the story of how Sonny Vaccaro changed sports and marketing and sports marketing and shoes forever by signing a then-rookie Michael Jordan to an unprecedented contract that resulted in the Air Jordan—one of the most recognizable fashion brands in the world—and Jordan becoming a global superstar.
Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, at the time a hustling sales guy at Nike, with maybe a gambling problem? Affleck stars as Nike founder Phil Knight, which I LOVE because Affleck excels at playing rich assholes (see also: School Ties, Shakespeare in Love, Boiler Room, Gone Girl, The Last Duel). Affleck is also the director, working off a script by Alex Convery.
Though the trailer dropped pre-game, Air is Amazon’s big-bet Super Bowl trailer, with a $7 million game spot. Also, Amazon Studios is backing Air with a 3,000+ theater wide release, and an exclusive theatrical window “comparable to or even longer than those from major studios”. Streamers are typically not in the business of movie theaters, but if Amazon’s bet on Air works, it could pressure Netflix, etc, to give longer and wider releases to movies before pushing them to streaming. I still don’t think the dust has settled from the pandemic upheaval of the industry, but it is proven that a healthy theatrical run leads to a strong streaming presence, so Sue Kroll, the new marketing chief at Amazon, isn’t pulling this strategy out of thin, er, air.
The trailer is quite good, setting up a classic underdog story—with sales slumping, Sonny shoots for the moon and a breakout basketball star around which to rebuild Nike’s fortunes. The focus is on Sonny and his search for a star to invigorate Nike’s basketball division, but if you’re expecting to see a young Michael Jordan in Air, get over it. He’s not in the movie as a proper character.
ALSO: Though AIR chronicles the chase to sign Michael Jordan to a Nike endorsement deal, thus changing the face of sports & sneakers & ushering in the era of the global athlete superstar, Jordan himself is not a character in the film & is not portrayed by an actor— Tatiana Siegel (@TatianaSiegel27) February 3, 2023
His parents, though, are. Viola Davis stars as Deloris Jordan, and Julius Tennon—Davis’s husband—stars as James R. Jordan, Sr. To get to Michael, Sonny has to win over his parents, so there’s the conflict. That, and designing the shoe itself. (The Air Jordan 1s still look amazing. Uncomfortable as hell, but that is a cool sneaker.) Also, for the Our Flag Means Death fans among us, that is Matthew Maher, aka Black Pete, as shoe designer Peter Moore. He’s in Affleck’s crossover social circle with Kevin Smith.
Air looks good, though I am 1) surprised by the April release date, I thought this was a fall movie, and the fact that it is not makes me slightly suspicious. 2023 is a car crash of film releases as the delayed pandemic production cycle is finally catching up with itself, so I’m trying not to hold any release dates against any movie, because in many cases, it simply cannot be helped, but Damon + Affleck + true story + Michael Jordan SHOULD = Oscar bait. But April is not a friendly month for that.
And I am 2) maybe a little put off by a movie entirely about how a few white people got rich off the talent and work of a Black man. Yes, Michael Jordan got (hugely) rich, too, but the way he’s not even a proper character in a story in which he IS the point? It’s weird! Maybe they were afraid of ending up on MJ’s sh-tlist, I’ve seen The Last Dance, Michael Jordan is a petty king with a memory that does not let go, I, too, would not want to cross him. But it doesn’t quite sit right to excise him from the story. Maybe the movie will make it make sense, I sure hope so.