I dunno… Maybe it’ll grow on me?
Throwbacks in film can be difficult to manage, especially to time periods we remember well. Air, which recounts the story of Nike’s pursuit to sign future global superstar Michael Jordan, kicks off with a montage of 1984 pop culture references, depicting the positive and sometimes corny images that we associate with life at the time. One of this movie’s greatest accomplishments is finding the heightened, breezy sheen that pervaded movies in that era and allowing itself to rest there. We all understand where this film is going, so we can relax and enjoy the ride along the way, soaking in all the fun details (remember green screen computers?). We can also watch the negotiations and lean in with the knowledge that Michael Jordan did, in fact, become the superstar marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) believed he would…
Ben Affleck’s career as a director wobbled a bit when Argo was followed by 2016’s Live by Night, which came and went without much notice. Though Argo isn’t a personal favorite of mine, one of its strongest assets was the final build to a life and death situation for its central characters. Career stakes are high for everyone in Air, but there is a wink to the camera because we understand everything is going to work out…
This could have resulted in the film becoming dull, but instead, it plays more like comfort food. Word of mouth will likely be strong as viewers embrace the film and the familiar turns it takes to get to its destination. Affleck hits the mark in that respect, giving us a rousing film. I’ll happily admit it had me smiling often.
Of course, the question of awards attention is hard to gauge so early in the year. Though Academy demographics have changed, this should especially appeal to older male voters – the dad/grandpa crowd who adored Top Gun: Maverick. For those of us who might be less inclined towards sports films, Air moves at a quick pace (though they still could have shaved off a good 10 minutes) and is surprisingly funny. What’s more the message of personalization in the pitch hits even harder because the product itself proved its value.
Viola Davis as Delores Jordan in “Air”
The primary reason for awards fans to track the film down is Viola Davis. While Matt Damon spars well and delivers a couple of strong speeches, Davis as Delores Jordan commands each of her scenes as the all-important deciding vote. If these negotiations are a poker game, she knows she has the winning hand – it’s just a matter of playing it correctly. While this may not ultimately end up on the Mount Rushmore of Viola Davis iconic performances, it’s still impressive work. Her reserved speech, deep stares and understated body language show her mind working and lend credence to her brilliant final sequences. I would love to see her score another Oscar nomination for this role. (A win wouldn’t be out of the question, either.)
For the film as a whole, I would recommend going in with expectations in check. Is this a masterpiece we will be discussing in a decade? No, it is not. Is it a good time at the movies? Yes, it is. Kudos to Amazon Studios for releasing this early enough to let it percolate for voters, though it would have been ideal for a Father’s Day weekend release. B+