by Rob DiCristino
Early last year, I wrote about how eagerly I was anticipating a new period of creative exuberance from my favorite modern screen star, Ben Affleck. Stabilized by personal enlightenment and emboldened by professional triumphs, Affleck seemed to be on the cusp of a genuine breakthrough, an era (era) in which he would finally embrace the freedoms and wisdom earned over his decades in the Hollywood trenches. And, indeed, there has been an easiness to these last few months that found Affleck delivering delightful supporting performances (in George Clooney’s The Tender Bar and Ridley Scott’s underrated The Last Duel) and headlining Deep Water, a steamy fuck noir from fuck noir superstar Adrian Lyne. It was only a matter of time before Affleck returned to the director’s chair — from which, lest we forget, he helmed 2012’s Best Picture-winning Argo — for his fifth feature effort, another story ripped from the pages of recent history, a brisk and rousing drama about one of professional sports’ greatest marketing triumphs.
Though Affleck and screenwriter Alex Convery are chronicling one of the most storied landmarks in corporate synergy, a deal that ultimately led to hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and a fundamental shift in the control that athletes hold over their cultural images, Air never feels overly maudlin or sanctimonious, nor does it rely on the romance or solemnity that Bennett Miller brought to his terrific Moneyball (one of Air’s closest cinematic cousins). Instead, it hums with an easy charm that makes the whole thing feel shot from the hip, as if it’s just another one of Vaccaro’s lucky rolls at the craps table. Damon — sporting the cozy paunch and sensible slacks of a middle-aged divorcee — doesn’t play Vaccaro as a conniving huckster or a tortured soul on the crest of inspiration, but rather as a diligent observer waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with him. It would stink if Nike and Jordan couldn’t make money together, sure, but it would be worse if Jordan settled for anything less than what Vaccaro believes he deserves.Draft Day — and is sure to give historical fact-checkers plenty of omissions, embellishments, and inaccuracies to salivate over — a preoccupation I’ve never understood in fictional films, but ya’ll do you — Ben Affleck’s fifth feature is a perfectly serviceable TBS afternoon diversion for dads everywhere, a feel-good story about gamblers taking gambles and legends being legendary. It’s about how quickly we can jump to commodifying talent before we really take the opportunity to appreciate it, how we even tend to dilute it through comparison and hold onto outdated metrics for success because they make for good water cooler banter. Every now and then, though, we rise above all that and build something that can last a generation. And then, forty years later, other people get to play dress up and make a movie about it with their best friends. We can’t all be Michael Jordan, I suppose, but that sounds like quite a bit of fun to me.
Air hits theaters on April 5th.