Ben Affleck’s biographical sports drama Air opens to a montage of iconic moments from the 1980s set to that decade’s hit song Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. This workplace story is set in sports brand Nike’s headquarters in Oregon, USA.

The year is 1984. The basketball sneaker market share is dominated by Converse followed by Adidas with Nike in third place. Nike is desperate to increase its share of the NBA pie. At the forefront of strategising a way to achieve this is Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a talent scout for Nike who is also a gambling man.

Written by Alex Convery, the Prime Video release is a howdunnit that goes behind the scenes to get Michael Jordan to sign with Nike leading to the creation of the signature shoe – the Air Jordan – and the start of a game-changing partnership.

Vaccaro is driven by his absolute conviction that Jordan has the potential to become America’s greatest ball player. This is nudged along by a pivotal moment watching champion Arthur Ashe’s Head tennis racket commercial. Vaccaro pushes Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) and colleagues Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and Howard White (Chris Tucker) to take an unprecedented punt on bringing the Chicago Bulls rookie on board.

Knight is a maverick entrepreneur-turned-suit, drives a purple Porsche, goes for a run to think and shares Buddhist maxims while being aware of his accountability to the board of directors. It’s down to Vaccaro, a man with little to lose but a whole lot of passion for the sport, to work around ruthless and crass agents, budgetary constraints and sceptical marketing heads to make his pitch a reality.

Matt Damon and Viola Davis in Air (2023). Courtesy Amazon Studios/Skydance Sports/Mandalay Pictures/ Artists Equity.

Air is a quick-paced entertainer with glib dialogue, humour and a wonderful sense of nostalgia for the 1980s. There’s the cassette player, VHS tapes, the early Macintosh computer, the hit songs of the decade (from Cyndi Lauper to Bruce Springsteen). It was a time when Nike was known solely as a running shoe. There’s also a reference to how the company got its famous tagline, “Just do it”.

One of the coolest moments is when the core team is working on a prototype for the Jordan shoe. While debating whether to opt for form or function, designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) says, Poetry only makes the world bearable. Engineering got us to the moon.” Shoe design is serious, and potentially big, business.

Affleck is in better control of the script as a director than as an actor. He chooses not to reveal Michael Jordan’s face, opting instead to anoint his mother Deloris the MVP in his career and success. Not giving Jordan a face or voice serves to commodify the sportsman further. As a portly, somewhat unkempt talent scout, Damon is affable and the unlikely hero in a fact-based story about the deal that catapulted the fortunes and coolness of the sports brand.

The repartee between Vaccaro and Knight, Vaccaro and Deloris (Viola Davis, wonderful), who manages and protects her son, and between Vaccaro and Strasser are the most memorable. Strasser delivers the film’s winning line saying, “A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it.” Until Deloris Jordan trumps it: “A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps into it.” Slam dunk.

Air (2023).