Air is a biographical sports drama film released on 5th April 2023. Impact‘s Thomas Martin reviews.
What do you get if you combine Batman, Jason Bourne, comedy-genius Jason Bateman, and the idea of Michael Jordan? Well, it certainly isn’t just air; you get a high-quality acted, wholesome story of how Nike has grown to become one of the most profitable and recognisable sports brands in the world, largely due to the unprecedented success of their Air Jordan sneakers.
However, as well as delving into Ben Affleck’s (starring and directing) Air, as this is the year 2023, the means upon which this success has been achieved does need to be noted, as an ethical point. Regardless, slip on your Air Jordan sneakers (if you can get them), and buckle up for an 80’s nostalgia-fest.
Beginning with a compilation of 80’s cultural classics, ranging from the Ghostbusters to Ronald Reagan, the film begins with Nike, a sportswear company, who lag behind Adidas and Converse in market share in the basketball arena. Essentially, Nike was not ‘cool’. Potential NBA athletes wouldn’t wear them, and the only market they dominated was in running.
Spending the entire basketball division budget on Jordan alone was a huge risk
The story hinges on Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), the ‘basketball guru,’ who becomes obsessed with signing Michael Jordan onto the Nike brand. At the time, however, Jordan was a Chicago Bulls guard who hadn’t played an NBA game yet, a ‘rookie,’ who Vaccaro-identified. It is made very clear that Jordan has no interest in even meeting with Nike for their presentation pitch. Spending the entire basketball division budget on Jordan alone was a huge risk, and this proposal was immediately rejected by both his Nike colleagues and Jordan’s agent.
However, after Vaccaro meets with Jordan’s parents – something that was prohibited in all but name due to the presence of agents – the shift changes, as parental power gets Jordan into the Nike HQ, and, after some tussling (particularly with Jordan’s mother, negotiating a commission on every product sold with Jordan’s name on it), well, the rest is history.
The writing is strong, intertwined with comedic one-liners
This is a standalone brand biopic, so there will be no sequels, prequels, nor spin-offs, and that is why the movie is so compelling. Think Tetris (2023), starring Taron Egerton. The writing is strong, intertwined with comedic one-liners, and the cinematographic quality from Robert Richardson (collaborator with Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino) is evident (). Most scenes take place within commonplace corporate locations, but the interactions between Damon and the other co-stars feel more impactful than would be for the average corporate-based scene.
Jordan was the shoe, and vice versa
At the end of the movie, it is stated in text that the Jordan Brand hit $5 billion in revenue in 2022, with Jordan himself being estimated to have made $1.3 billion from Nike. (). The essence of this movie is the embodiment of an individual athlete into the core marketing and creation of a product. Jordan was the shoe, and vice versa. His success was embodied in the shoe, which could be shared by all the customers who bought a pair. This is why we never see Jordan’s face in the film, only the back of his head at the most.
Affleck stated that Jordan’s absence was out of respect for the ‘largeness of his legacy,’ () but, despite it coming across as awkward at times, it makes sense. A criticism is this is a corporate movie celebrating the exploitation of a young sportsman, but that’s the wrong angle. Nearly all stakeholders have benefitted, and the process innovation in athletes getting a commission on their brand-related sales, has seen billions more dollars being transferred to local communities and away from shareholders.
‘88% of Nike‘s sweatshop workers are malnourished
Unfortunately, the use of sweatshops to produce these products did occur for decades, and there is even a small joke within the movie that highlights the Nike executives’ knowledge of that situation. Sub-contracting manufacturing to Indonesian factories without reviewing working conditions led to one study claiming that ‘88%’ of Nike’s sweatshop workers are malnourished, with ’18 hour’ work days on only ‘$2 a day’ (). If the focus was to be on the Nike corporation and not Jordan, it seems an omission that this error wasn’t focused on a little bit more.
A solid watch
Overall, Air is, simply put, a solid watch. At 4/5, it ticks the necessary boxes of good writing and acting, with enough comedy to satisfy throughout.
This film is definitely a ‘shoe-in’ for sports fans, 80’s lovers, and general viewers alike.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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