Air, about the invention of Nike’s Air Jordan shoe, nimbly steps around becoming just another ode to capitalism or a nifty feature-length product placement by putting people before the product. Its treatment mirrors the creation of the Air Jordan – rather than co-opt an individual to fit the company’s requirements, the company moulded itself around the individual, with Nike customizing the shoe to Michael Jordan’s preferences. The result is a sports movie that unfolds in conference rooms and offices instead of the basketball court. Its wins come from moments of human connection rather than trophies or awards. Its biggest scenes are also some of the most moving. The film, directed by Ben Affleck and starring Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina and Viola Davis, is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Here are 5 standout moments from it:
Nike’s talent scout (Matt Damon) has been introduced as a man who loves to gamble, but he’s also a man whose faith in his fellow men remains unshaken. As he and his coworkers discuss which basketball player the brand should sign, they all point to facts and figures. Sonny, however, focuses on how the sport makes him feel. Those emotions are on full display as he watches a tape of Michael Jordan’s highlights at home. Sonny bolts upright in his chair – this is the moment he realizes he’s found a once-in-a-generation talent, one he'll spend the rest of the film defending to his bosses at Nike.
When Sonny takes the elevator down to the basement to meet with Nike’s designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), he does so with all the gravitas of a secret agent on a mission. After a brief segue into Peter’s midlife crisis (the film once again letting human emotion seep into a purely business deal), they get to work. While discussing whether the shoe should prioritize form or function more, Peter drops the line, “Poetry only makes the world beautiful, it’s engineering that got us to the moon.” He’s rewarded with a record-scratch moment of his own when he asks who the shoe is for and Sonny, halfway out the door by then, pauses, looks him in the eye and goes, “Michael Jordan.”
Michael Jordan remains on the periphery of Air. His imposing stature filmed from the back is the only sign of his presence. Instead, we find out about the athlete through the woman who raised him. Against all advice, Sonny bypasses Michael’s agent and arrives at the Jordans’ home directly, hoping to talk the player into signing with Nike. Michael is inside but his mother (Viola Davis), firmly insists that it’s not time for them to meet yet. Instead, she invites him to talk to her and the conversation doesn’t go how you’d expect. Instead of strategy and contracts, they talk about parents and sacrifice. Sonny doesn’t wow her with the prospect of money or glamour, instead he sells her on his uncanny ability to read people and his unwavering belief in her son.
It’s easy to get swept up in Sonny’s maverick courage while dismissing the rest of Nike workers as unimaginative and unwilling to take risks. In one scene, however, the film lays out just how much is on the line for them, and makes us sympathetic to their reluctance to go along with Sonny’s grand plans. Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) talks about how skewed custody arrangements have made him a virtual stranger to his young daughter and the only reason she looks forward to his visits now is all the free shoes he gets from Nike. “I want my job,” he tells Sonny, and for a second you feel a stab of guilt about the fact that it’s now in jeopardy.
Once again, Sonny throws the rulebook out the window. Sensing Michael’s disinterest in the Nike team’s carefully curated slideshow and magazine mockups, he launches into an impromptu speech about the fleeting nature of fame versus the lasting impact of legacy. “A shoe is just a shoe, until somebody steps in it,” he says, echoing what Rob said to him earlier. It’s a rousing moment, and a slam-dunk – after some negotiation, Michael eventually does sign with them.
Recommendation in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video.