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‘AIR’ Is A Slam Dunk Thanks To Its Star-Studded Cast – SXSW 2023 Review

Basketball has been an integral part of my life from an early age, largely thanks to my father’s influence as a college player. While I came of age during the twilight years of Michael Jordan’s basketball reign, his indelible impact on the sport had already rippled through the NBA and inspired young athletes worldwide.

In particular, I recall watching the cinematic classic Like Mike regularly in my youth, the film’s relentless energy fueling my own passion and determination to forge my path on the court. Throughout my formative years, from grade school to middle school to the intensely competitive AAU circuit and beyond, I could always count on a prized pair of Jordans to bolster my confidence and style.

(Courtesy of Prime Video)

Helmed by acclaimed director Ben Affleck, known for his masterful work on award-winning films such as Argo and The Town, AIR offers a captivating glimpse into the awe-inspiring partnership between an up-and-coming Michael Jordan and Nike’s burgeoning basketball division. This dynamic collaboration not only transformed the realm of sports but also ushered in a new era of contemporary culture with the iconic Air Jordan brand.

At its core, this riveting narrative depicts the high-stakes gamble of a maverick team willing to risk it all, the uncompromising vision of a mother who recognizes her son’s immense potential, and the basketball prodigy who would go on to become the greatest of all time.

Affleck’s long time screen partner and best friend, Matt Damon delivers a standout performance as Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s esteemed basketball expert, while Affleck embodies the role of Nike’s founder and CEO, Phil Knight. Jason Bateman takes on the role of Rob Strasser, Nike’s VP of Marketing and Chris Tucker returns to the big screen delivering a memorable and hilarious turn as Howard White, an ex-player and Sonny’s colleague and advisor. Marlon Wayans portrays George Raveling, one of Jordan’s coaches, at the 1984 Olympics. The exceptional cast also features Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, Nike’s creative director. Julius Tennon delivers a heartwarming and authentic portrayal of Michael’s father, James Jordan. It’s worth noting that Tennon, is also Davis’ real-life husband, and because of that, their off-screen relationship undoubtedly enhanced the believability of their on-screen dynamic. Together, this ensemble brings to life a tale of passion, perseverance, and the transformative power of collaboration.

(Courtesy of Prime Video)

Although the entire ensemble delivers outstanding performances, Damon and Viola Davis elevate the film exponentially. Damon’s portrayal of Vaccaro is nuanced and captivating, showcasing his effortless range as an actor. He brings to life the complex and driven personality of Nike’s basketball expert, injecting a sense of authenticity and depth into the character. Davis (who is just coming off one of her best performances to date in The Woman King) delivers a powerhouse performance as Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris. Her portrayal is imbued with emotional depth and pathos, and she masterfully conveys the struggles and triumphs of a mother who fiercely believes in her son’s potential.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Davis’ performance in AIR is her ability to convey a wealth of emotion through subtle gestures and expressions, without speaking a single word. Her portrayal of Deloris is a masterclass in understated yet powerful acting. Davis’ ability to communicate Deloris’ unwavering belief in her son through body language and facial expressions is truly remarkable, and it is a testament to her skill as an actor. Through her nuanced performance, Davis imbues Deloris with a sense of fierce determination and a deep love for her son that is palpable on screen. It is this level of artistry that truly sets Davis apart as one of the greatest actors of her generation.

(Courtesy of Prime Video)

While AIR has its fair share of serious moments, the film also features several scenes that are sure to get laughter from the audience. The comedic timing of Bateman and Chris Messina (who portrays David Falk) is impeccable, and they infuse their characters with a healthy dose of humor and charm. Whether it’s Strasser’s dry wit or Falk’s larger-than-life personality, these characters provide some much-needed levity amidst the film’s more dramatic moments. These humorous scenes are expertly woven into the narrative, allowing the audience to connect with the characters on a deeper level. Overall, this film strikes a perfect balance between drama and comedy, making it a must-see film for fans of both genres.

One of the more interesting choices made by Affleck was to move away from the traditional biopic format and focus solely on the people in Jordan’s life without having someone play a young Michael. Instead, the film uses actual clips of Jordan playing basketball to highlight his career and achievements. Using actual footage of Jordan only adds to the film’s authenticity and impact. This approach works exceptionally well, allowing the talented cast to take center stage and showcase their performances without being overshadowed by a younger version of the iconic basketball player. The focus on the people around Jordan gives the film a more nuanced and intimate look at the man behind the legend.

AIR is a heartfelt and funny story exploring the power of owning your worth and having people believe in you. Through the lens of Jordan’s life and career, the film delivers a universal and relatable message, regardless of whether or not you are a “sneakerhead.” AIR is a must-see movie that will inspire and uplift you, showcasing the best of what cinema has to offer. An inspiring tale of passion, perseverance, and the limitless possibilities of greatness.

Rating: 9/10

AIR is Now Playing in theaters

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