Golden Boys Make Good on Their Potential–“Air”

Ben Affleck & Matt Damon holding their Oscars for “Good Will Hunting”, 1997

25 years ago, two childhood friends struck gold. They wrote a screenplay and had the audacity to shop it around with the stipulation that they would also star in the film. They engendered much goodwill with their charisma and chutzpa and when they brought their mothers to the Oscar ceremony, everyone was charmed.  Ben Affleck became the youngest person to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at age 25. Matt Damon also won an Oscar and was nominated for his starring role in “Good Will Hunting”.

They went off to have storied careers with big hits as leads in Action/SciFi/Comic Book films. Damon was great in the “Bourne Identity” films and Affleck went from portraying Batman for DC Comics to playing a washed-up actor who used to play Superman (“Hollywoodland”). They each had their films that won acclaim and a few that were not hits. Damon married a hairdresser he met on the set of a film and stayed out of the Hollywood spotlight. He’s known for his faux “feud” with Jimmy Kimmel but has a reputation as a solid reliable family man.

Affleck had trouble dealing with fame and all that constant attention. A very public divorce and he became the subject of “Sad Ben” memes. Now happily married to the one of the most famous stars in the world, Jennifer Lopez, he seems to have learned to navigate Hollywood and his career. He won an Oscar for his second film, “Argo” over 16 years ago. Affleck has now directed four features (including “Gone, Baby Gone”, “The Town”), all dramas with emotional themes based on real life events or bestselling books.

Affleck and Damon have now started their own Production Company; Artist Equity has a unique and ground-breaking way of doing business. Artists accept a lower salary but take a percentage of the profits, including on the streaming side of distribution. Once a perk of a few directors or movie stars (points on the back end), Artist Equity aims to spread the wealth amongst the filmmaking team to include cinematography, editor and costume designer. Their first project is the sports biopic, “Air”, Amazon Studios, playing in theaters now.

With Affleck at the helm directing a script by Alex Convery, he’s assembled a great team that makes the film a special treat. Even if you’re not a big sports fan and have never owned a pair of basketball shoes, this warm-hearted film brings star power to tell an underdog tale. This isn’t a film about a sports team finally winning the big championship and triumphing over all odds. “Air” is the story of how the Nike shoe company, known for its running shoes, landing the best basketball player in the world as their spokesperson.

Set in 1984, Matt Damon dons the rumpled suits of Sonny Vaccaro, the basketball scout for Nike. Affleck spouts Buddhist tenets while sporting outlandish running attire and 80’s sunglasses as the co-founder and CEO of Nike, Phil Knight.

At Michael Jordan’s behest, Viola Davis plays his mother, Deliros. She’s the one who brokered the deal that is the center of this film. Jason Bateman sports a shag hairdo as VP of Marketing, Robby Strasser. Chris Tucker is a welcome addition as Howard White. For a film that’s mainly a series of conversations in offices, having well-known, likeable actors inhabit these people was crucial.

Screenwriter Alex Convery gives the “Air” team credit. “Ben and Matt took the script and ran with it…So much of what was on the screen was their doing,” Convery said. Their collaboration extended on set, Convery said. Chris Tucker cooked up most of his own dialogue. Viola Davis improvised, by Convery’s own admission, “the best line in the movie” (“A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps into it”). A lot of Chris Messina’s “agent ranting” was the product of Affleck egging him on.” ‘Air’ Writer Alex Convery ‘Never Thought’ Michael Jordan Drama Would Get Made — Then Ben Affleck Called” IndieWire, Kate Erbland, April 4, 2023

Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro & Viola Davis as Deliros Jordan in “Air”, Amazon Studios, 2023

The underdogs in this story are the executive team at Nike Shoe Company. Based on the true story of the birth of Air Jordans, we follow Nike’s basketball scout, Sonny Vaccaro, as he chases rookie player Michael Jordan. Vaccaro wants to sign Jordan to represent Nike basketball shoes. Courting a legend is the tagline of the film. Instead, Jordan’s mother, Deliros Jordan makes an unprecedented request.

The movie doesn’t feature the young basketball star. He’s only shown from behind or later, in clips of the real Jordan on the court. The action is focused instead on the conversations between Sonny and Deliros as he tries to convince her to make this deal for his son. Sonny has the brilliant idea of a shoe that’s named for their star and designed exclusively for him. It’s a tough sell for Sonny when he can’t even get a meeting with Jordan. Chris Messina plays the sports agent and gatekeeper to the ball player.

There’s a little too much time spent trying to establish the time period with close-ups of large phones, 80’s fashion and multiple period-specific songs on the radio. The film could’ve been edited to a standard hour and a half instead of an hour & 51 minutes. The story has heart and it’s an enjoyable time spent with the talented cast. The film saves the razzle dazzle of Jordon playing basketball for the end. It gets you rooting for both Nike and the Jordan family.

Founders of the Artist Equity Production Company: Matt Damon, CCO & Ben Affleck, CEO, 2022

A movie with a plot that revolves around profit-sharing, made by a production company that’s doing the same thing for its filmmaking team–what a way to launch your new company. Affleck and Damon have had divergent career paths with each achieving success on their own. Now they’ve teamed up again and with Affleck’s assured direction and Damon’s command of the screen—they’re created another success together. It may have only taken 25 years but once again, they’re engendering good will.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 Gatorades (out of 5)

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