Ben Affleck’s 'Air' is a crashing bore

This smug film is an ordeal for those who don’t dig basketball. It is an ordeal even for those who do

Ben Affleck in 'Air' (photo courtesy @DiscussingFilm/Twitter)
Ben Affleck in 'Air' (photo courtesy @DiscussingFilm/Twitter)

Subhash K Jha

Air (Amazon Prime Video)

Rating: **

Ben Affleck, who plays the Nike shoe company’s boss in this very strenuously hip and campy film, has a habit of putting his bare feet up on his desk while meeting with his colleagues.

Now this act is a very Oriental thing. Men don’t show their feet in the cinema of the West. Not superstars for sure, even in the Orient. When was the last time you saw Shah Rukh Khan’s feet on the screen?

Affleck with his feet up in Air (up in the air?) is symptomatic of this film’s hunger to be as cool as the shoe brand that it hard-sells to an audience that has zero interest in the business.

This is not a sports drama, like it's being marketed. It is about the drama behind the sports, as one overweight executive from Nike, Sonny Vaccaro (played by a duly fattened and excitable Matt Damon), tries to poach basketball legend Michael Jordan away from other sneakers companies to promote Nike.

Vaccaro’s approach is purely that of a cinematic hero: push push push until, like a stubborn sneaker stuck on your ankle, the other party relents. From the time that Vaccaro approaches Jordan’s mom (not his dad, who remains a bovine blacked-out back-grounder in the brisk business deal) to the time when she says yes, the screenplay is filled with various flavours of rant, mostly on the phone with agents haranguing Vaccaro while Vaccaro keeps smiling through all of it, determined to win over Michael Jordan’s mother.

This smug film is an ordeal for those who don’t dig basketball. It is an ordeal even for those who do. There is no basketball in the film. Only characters who have business stakes in the game argue over it. All this probably happened before Michael Jordan was weaned into becoming Nike’s brand ambassador. There is probably an interesting story tucked away in the negotiation between Nike and Jordan. This is not it.

Air is a crashing bore of a film. It is hard to believe that best friends Ben Affleck and Matt Damon could collaborate on something so bland and blasé after bonding over such classics as Good Will Hunting and Chasing Amy.

Neither Affleck nor Damon are at their best here as actors. Viola Davis easily wins the actors’ race as Jordan’s shrewd but gentle mother. She brings a bit of gravitas to a film that otherwise sadly lacks that quality.

As for Affleck’s direction, it is hard to believe he directed one of my favourite political thrillers, Argo. This time, in Air, Affleck’s direction is turgid and over-punctuated, as though he were trying to hide the sheer weightlessness of the theme and the silliness of the mood.

By the way, we only get to see Michael Jordan as archival footage . Whenever he is on-screen otherwise, we don’t see his face. This in a way is what the film achieves. A shadowy mass of voluble nothing.

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