San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Review: ‘Air’ soars to the top of 2023 films

Ben Affleck’s latest film is elevated by a great cast and crew
Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro in AIR.

In the opening moments of “Air,” director Ben Affleck immerses the audience in the culture of 1984. There’s flashes of TV ads, celebrities, movie scenes and of course, basketball clips. 

Basketball in the early 1980s was dominated by two larger-than-life athletes: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Soon after, a third superstar would join the mix — and exceed all expectations.

“Air” follows the story of Nike’s basketball division as they seek to recruit rookie Michael Jordan for their struggling brand. However, at the time, Jordan’s stratospheric success was far from a sure thing. Much to Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) and Rob Strasser’s (Jason Bateman) dismay, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) makes it his mission to push all his chips in on the budding star. 

Along the way, Vaccaro has to find unconventional ways to recruit Jordan and establish a centerpiece for their company. They aren’t alone in the pursuit of Jordan too, as Converse and Adidas vie for a brand deal.  

While Jordan himself would have been a worthy lead in negotiation scenes, the film instead sets its focus on a key piece of his team: his mother, Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis). 

Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro and Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan in AIR. (Photo Courtesy: ANA CARBALLOSA © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC)

Davis, as always, gives a phenomenal performance. She portrays Deloris with poise and conviction, as she always stands up for her son’s best interests. In fact, according to a Q&A with the cast and crew, Michael Jordan approved of the film on the condition that Davis was the actress portraying his mother.

Jordan’s casting condition worked out, and the movie is better for it. 

From the opening credits to the conclusion of “Air,” Ben Affleck handles a compelling story with sure-handed directing. Helping him along is a sharp script from Alex Convery, fully-realized production design from François Audouy and the film’s brisk pace.

Many of the film’s most important scenes involve characters talking over the phone or across the desk. As a result, Audouy’s production design becomes even more important. Affleck’s camerawork and Audouy’s settings ensure that the expository scenes feel fresh and engaging. Dialogue-heavy films about business can be a tough sell, but “Air” still finds a way to soar.

Director Ben Affleck on the set of AIR. (Photo Courtesy: ANA CARBALLOSA © AMAZON CONTENT SERVICES LLC)

The dialogue is continuously compelling and at times hilarious, which is especially impressive considering that “Air” marks Convery’s first produced screenplay. The Aaron Sorkin-esque quips are sold perfectly from comedic forces like Bateman and supporting cast members Chris Messina and Chris Tucker. 

The Sorkin comparisons can be taken a step further, as the film draws similarities to 2011’s “Moneyball.” Both films earnestly tell the story of underdogs, but in different contexts. While “Moneyball” follows Billy Beane’s risky reconstruction of a baseball team with a focus on individual players, “Air” keeps things mostly business-oriented.

Another draw of “Air” is the tight editing and pace the film maintains throughout. Its 112-minute runtime doesn’t feel a second too long, and the ending is sure to leave audiences inspired. In an era of increasingly lengthy films, it’s refreshing to see an efficient telling of a focused story.

The film may indulge a bit in pop culture references and sentimental speeches, but it never comes across as overbearing. The story is told in a fairly straightforward manner, only pushing for emotional moments when it needs to. Where the film decides to engage in melodrama, it does so earnestly. 

“Air” is an inspiring and well-crafted film that is likely to please basketball fans and film buffs alike. And it may be the first great movie of 2023.

About the Contributor
Noah Lyons, '23-24 Opinion Editor
Noah Lyons (he/him) is a Journalism major and transfer student from Irvine, California. Ever since he was young, he loved to tell stories and dive deep into his favorite subjects — sports, music, current events, and film. He joined the Daily Aztec in 2022, and has since covered the Wonderfront and Rolling Loud music festivals, attended advanced movie screenings and interviewed several musicians. When he isn't doing homework until midnight or writing articles, you can expect to see Noah searching for the best California burritos that San Diego has to offer or walking around campus listening to Bleachers and Paramore.
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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Review: ‘Air’ soars to the top of 2023 films