Like so many different art forms, movies invite viewers to contemplate the perspectives and experiences of those very different from themselves. Through this contemplation, this struggle with intention and perspective, art illuminates the human condition and perhaps allows the lover to grow and develop as a person. Movies are also a great way to pass a few hours with full ass and be happy instead of ruining your day.
Air, the new movie about the making of Nike’s Air Jordan sneaker line, features one of the best movie backs you’re likely to see this year. It’s a sports business movie, the perfect forum for ass-showing, and it’ll be hard to top Chris Messina’s performance as erratic agent David Faulk.
Falk is the real sports agent who represented Michael Jordan early in his career when he was a promising but unproven player for the University of North Carolina basketball team and about to join the Chicago Bulls. The real David Falk has a storied career that may or may not include being a total jerk, but David Falk in Air is an absolutely adorable goofball who lights up the screen whenever he pops up to cuss into the phone.
Photo: Ana Carballosa/Amazon Studios
As Falk, Chris Messina (who viewers may know from Birds of prey or Sharp objects) is Aira de facto antagonist, a brick wall for the film’s hero, Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), to throw himself against. Sony tried to bring Jordan on as a sponsor of the 1984 version of Nike, a far cry from the sneaker giant it is today. Air describes Vaccaro as “athletes are magic,” a true believer stuck in a marketing department full of people just trying to keep the company in the black. It follows him as he tries to convince everyone to embrace the radical idea of 1984 to put the full weight of the company behind one athlete and create a shoe that can be branded with his name.
One person Air not Jordan himself. Instead, Vaccaro must fight people who represent Jordan, such as Falk and later Jordan’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis). It is AirThe most divisive aspect, as the spin and dealing between Vaccaro, Falk, and others centers around the idea of labor and what that labor is worth to the worker and the corporation that wants to exploit it. A cursory review of Air will see the film as corporate propaganda, a hagiography of wealthy businessmen and executives securing their legacies off the back of the most legendary basketball player in the history of the game. Or, perhaps, it could be seen as a misplaced admiration for guys like Vaccaro (films like this almost exclusively celebrate guys) who go with their gut and have been met with unprecedented success despite all the doubters around them who rightly say they are foolhardy.
But Air it might be about something more complicated than that. For all Falk’s swagger in his portrayal of Jordan—and Messina does do a fantastic job carrying the phones he screams into, as well as his impeccably tailored suits—he doesn’t know what’s in his client. To Falk and to almost every other character Air besides sonny vaccaro and deloris jordan, michael jordan is just a salary, numbers on the balance sheet that may or may not work for them. This uncertainty permeates Air, offering a bit of a nasty irony that director Ben Affleck thrives on. At every moment, he plays on the irony of the audience knowing that his characters are discussing the viability and profitability of the most famous basketball player alive.
Photo: Ana Carballosa/Amazon Studios
While all these characters debate what athletes should be paid for their work, Air coolly juxtaposes its conflicts with the enormous commercial successes of the era. Pop hits from Bonnie Tyler and Run-DMC constantly filter through the soundtrack. Brand names dot the screen and era-appropriate ads are constantly being tried. For the first time, screenwriter Alex Convery presents a vision of a corporate-run monoculture at the height of its last great era, just as it was about to discover one of its last figures. Air is a movie about how hard it is to make a hit everythingand an elegiac tune for a modern pop culture landscape where nothing will ever land as hard again as the seminal 1980s samples.
What makes this movie so striking is the way each character enters Air whose name is not “Jordan” is just a guess. David Falk is an ass because he decided the only way to get results is to treat every client as an excuse to rip people off for money so he can increase his personal influence and wealth. While Sonny Vaccaro ultimately wins the day, he spends much of the Airworking time as a die-hard Jerry Maguire mode gambler, forever a day away from washing up, neglecting his health and personal life to pursue hunches that, as he was repeatedly told, never materialized.
For 112 minutes, it depicts white men with money who spend much of their time convincing themselves and others that they can see where the culture is going, when it’s clear they can’t because their primary mandate is to protect wealth you are In the least sympathetic moment, Vaccaro squirms against Deloris’ confident negotiation that Michael get a share of the gross sales of the shoes bearing his name. He knows that’s just not how things are done. In the sneaker business of the era, athletes are paid a licensing fee for their endorsement, and the profits go to the company — which executives say is the real source of value.
Image: Amazon Studios
Vaccaro is blindly loyal to the precedent of this unfair structure and resists the thought of changing it—even telling Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck himself) that he lost the Jordan deal. Vaccaro is surprised when Knight takes Deloris’ condition seriously, and in a moment of wall-smashing irony, Knight later reflects that he may have set an industry-changing precedent.
Through heated arguments and casual speeches, Air shows the process by which corporations engraft themselves on culture as true faith and magic clash with the machinery of commerce and exploitation by which it thrives. It’s a meat grinder built primarily to benefit men like David Falk and Phil Knight, and any windfall earned by the young Michael Jordans of the world is secondary at best. Men with money arm themselves with pride and confidence as they fumble in the dark trying to hitch their wagons to someone doing something that makes the people of the world feel like they believe in something again.
Air ultimately condemns Falk—at least as much as it is capable of condemning anyone—by making the character almost entirely alien to the story the film adapts. Sonny Vaccaro and Deloris Jordan, true believers in the film, move the needle and combine Nike’s corporate success with Michael Jordan’s amazing career. As a great ass, Falk makes a great scapegoat, but he’s also an honest ass; Deloris is the only character in the film who doesn’t try to exploit Michael. At the end of the day, they’re all assholes whose careers depend on people who don’t know what they’re worth.
Air playing in theaters now.