The closing night gala of AIR was a movie that was officially announced just a few days ago. I was lucky to attend the screening where SxSW Film & TV lead Claudette Godfrey (who absolutely killed it as the new showrunner this year taking over for long time lead Janet Pierson) introduced Ben Affleck, who in turn introduced Chris Messina, Julius Tennon, Chris Tucker, Matt Damon & Viola Davis to a loud and enthusiastic reaction.
ABOUT: AIR reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division which revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This moving story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent, and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.
JASON’S REACTION: You would not know you would want a movie about a shoe and getting the greatest athlete of all time to sign to it, but you do, you really really do. Filmmaker Ben Affleck returns with his latest directorial effort adding to his already wonderful resume. This movie shows the guts of the process and mostly through the eyes of Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) who side-steps all of the process to get Michael Jordan to sign with Nike and connects strongly with Jordan’s parents (Julius Tennon and Viola Davis). The shoe also has to be designed while this is all happening as well, and we get a few scenes with Peter Moore (the massively underrated Matthew Maher) who was the real creator of the famous shoe that we all cherish today.
There’s so much more to this movie than what I described of course, with many conflicting characters and competition from other companies, but the joy is the process. Affleck’s direction here kind of sneaks up on you and is a different visual flair than his other works like ARGO and THE TOWN, and has a bit more of the tone he had in 2007’s GONE BABY GONE (all of these movies made my respective Top 10 lists) and I did feel a more procedural feel and love for the actual business and the conflicts between companies, agents and performers. Surprisingly, Affleck has a smaller role here and the real champion of the movie is Matt Damon who Sonny Vaccaro who knows what he wants and GETS what he wants, even when he goes over his job description to sign Michael Jordan through his parents. Damon has a speech towards the end that is unforgettable, and he’s also matched with a big and diverse cast of characters all with their own personality.
We all know how this story turns out but the real power of AIR is the journey, the dialogue and especially the eye to detail of the time. Affleck even goes so far as to not only do a montage of 1984 right down to the popular culture of the time but even uses music cues from Tangerine Dream, Nancy Wilson and other musicians from that era along with a very film-like look from cinematographer Robert Richardson for a complete, involving moviegoing experience. Not only is this my favourite movie of this year’s SxSW but is a good contender for my year-end Top 10 list. It really was a nice way to send out SxSW 2023 and already makes me excited for the 2024 edition.
Amazon Studios is the distributor in the US and Warner Bros. in Canada and AIR will receive a theatrical release on April 5th. Our huge thanks to SxSW and their PR team for assistance with this article.