They’re sailing through the air! (CREDIT: Ana Carballosa/© Amazon Conten Services LLC)

Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Julius Tennon, Marlon Wayans, Jay Mohr

Director: Ben Affleck

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Big League Potty Mouths

Release Date: April 5, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Nowadays, Nike stands victorious in pretty much every sector of the athletic shoe market. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case! So Air takes us back to 1984 to reveal the story of When Nike Met Mikey. As Michael Jordan was headed to the Chicago Bulls out of North Carolina, it wasn’t immediately obvious what sort of transcendent figure he would become. But there were a few folks who recognized something unprecedented, including Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), the Nike executive who bet the company’s entire basketball division on a whole new paradigm with the introduction of the Air Jordan sneaker. What emerges is a story about not just peeking into the future, but also taking what’s yours and shaking off exploitation.

What Made an Impression?: Air is one of those movies that is just perfectly cast. I’m enthralled by everyone’s introductory scene, and I’m excited for them to return when they’re not on the screen. Damon slips right into Sonny’s everyman hustle, while the rest of the Nike office is rounded out by Chris Tucker’s indefatigable motormouth and Jason Bateman’s charming frustration. Matthew Maher is an absolute treat as Pete Moore, the excitable designer tasked with realizing the Air Jordan vision. Chris Messina is a hoot as Jordan’s egomaniacal agent, while Viola Davis brings it all home in an unsurprisingly commanding performance as Jordan’s mother Deloris. And of course, we can’t forget Ben Affleck directing himself as Nike founder Phil Knight with a mix of desperate world-weariness and lingering idealism.

With a movie about fairly recent history, you can have a lot of fun with 20/20 hindsight wisdom, and Air makes the most of it. Did Nike execs really doubt the cultural viability of Charles Barkley, who went on to become one of the most telegenic players and broadcasters in NBA history? Maybe, maybe not, but the folly of that massive misread is still worth plenty of snickers regardless of accuracy. Much more believable, at least from my vantage point, is the lack of awareness about Gonzaga University in the years before they became a college basketball powerhouse.

After all the fun and the bluster, Air ultimately reveals itself as a tribute to the importance of workers’ rights. It may seem counterintuitive to pin that message on a billionaire like Jordan, but those massive riches he accrued were never a guarantee. And the film makes a compelling argument that the highly individualized Air Jordan deal set a precedent that the workers of the sports world – i.e., the players – deserved autonomy and security, no matter how vast or pitiful their base compensation. If a sneaker can look cool AND make the world just a little bit better, then the human race is doing something just a little bit right.

Air is Recommended If You Like: Tracksuits, Car phones, Poring over game tape

Grade: 4 out of 5 Sneakers