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MOVIES: Air - Review

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Air plunges us into a world before Nike’s basketball sneakers - the Air Jordan, was the ultra-success that it is today. For all intents and purposes, it adopts an approach that perhaps best befits this odd, almost unnerving trend in movies lately: they all seem to be about a product, or a product deal. Look at Tetris, out on AppleTV+ as another example.

There are multiple readings of this film and whilst the most charitable could be it’s a film about the working men doing the best they can within a system set up for the rich to succeed; it creates a sinister perspective and shows the next evolution of biopics – a move away from the star to the product; no need to elevate performances front and centre in favour of a movie that’s designed to make you care about the thing that it’s selling. It’s a biopic without Michael Jordan present – he’s barely in the film – those going in expecting it to be about him will be disappointed, it’s more about the Nike deal – but that’s by no means to say Air is bad. In fact, despite everything that I’ve just mentioned here; its biggest success is that is one of the most fun times that I’ve had in the cinema this year.

The pairing of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon can do this sort of thing in their sleep. It’s cut from the same cloth of the boardroom drama Moneyball, or Affleck’s own, Argo. In the director's chair Affleck steers the ship steadily in a well polished way – it doesn’t stand out as much as either of those films and features all the tropes and cliches that you’d expect from this kind of inspirational movie – every character gets to have an inspiring monologue sure to feature in endless LinkedIn or Instagram pages by the sort of capitalist grifters that miss the point of everything they post.

The film uses its ‘80s needle drops to evoke fond memories of the time period: Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro gets multiple jokes at himself and the period’s expense; a phone attached to the company car that he can answer while driving; and he tries to participate in the running craze – but being a middle aged man who doesn’t exercise regularly; he stops after less than five minutes and calls it a day. The movie is well aware of Damon’s ability to poke fun at himself, and all the better for it – casting him as the lead role rather than Affleck shows Affleck’s ability to recognise when his friends are better suited to roles than he is; and Affleck has much more fun as Nike’s head honcho anyway; meditating and taking risks when he’s pressured into them. The bond between the core figures at the company is successful because you can see them as friends – these people would hang out outside of work if they weren’t too busy; and it’s ultimately at the end of the day; a movie about people being good at their jobs – hard work ethics pay off, is the movie’s teaching, and Damon’s monologues completely get you on his side from the start.

Fantastic performances by the likes of Viola Davis in supporting roles really give this movie gravitas: the decision to place a key emphasis on Michael Jordan’s parents rather than Jordan himself is something that becomes more important in the second half of the film, and Davis’ powerhouse performance anchors the film firmly in place as Deloris Jordan. It’s clear that all these actors involved wanted to pay respects to the real people who they were playing – other supporting figures include Chris Messina’s star turn as Jordan’s agent, Douglas Falk, who gets one of the best expletive-filled rants of the last few years on screen, and Matthew Maher, everywhere recently; plays designer Peter Moore with that quirkiness that made him so key to films like Funny Pages – truly the ultimate modern-day character actor if there ever was one. And this is a film full of them; good stars doing good things – bringing legends to life in a way that’s pure crowd-pleaser material.

It’s funny, laugh-out-loud and meaningful enough to make it well worth your time. The more you peel back the surface and the more you think about the overtly capitalist makings of Air and what it means for the future of films like this the more your stomach begins to turn; but there’s a lot there to like all the same – and it’s the triumph of Affleck/Damon striking gold again that makes Air worth the price of admission based on that alone.

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