“Air: The Story Behind the Logo”: A Capitalist Fantasy on Prime Video

Ben Affleck's film about signing one of the most lucrative contracts in sports history aims to be a cross between sports and corporate drama. This is our review of “Air: The story behind the logo”, available on Prime Video.

Still from the film 'Air: The story behind the logo'

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Andrés Rodríguez

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Leer en español: “Air: La historia detrás del logo”: Una fantasía capitalista en Prime Video

In the canon of capitalist mythology, the hero is a subject who, thanks to his charisma, talent, passion, and rebellion, transforms the "free market" landscape. He or she is known as a person who "disrupts" the system to earn more money than can be spent in a lifetime, and thereby embodies the fantasy of the "American dream." Hollywood has been in charge of shaping the pantheon of these figures, and has a special place for those who are intertwined with another of its favorite myths: the rising athlete. It is an irresistible formula for the big studios, and that in its latest iteration focuses on the origin of the most famous sports shoes in history. We tell you about this new Prime Video production.

"Air," directed by Ben Affleck and written by Alex Convery, chronicles Michael Jordan's signing with Nike for Air Jordan, the basketball shoe line that revolutionized the NBA and the sports endorsement industry. The film focuses on the corporate aspect from the perspective of Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a basketball scout for Nike in 1984, the year Jordan debuted in the NBA Draft. Vacarro is credited for landing the deal for the swoosh company, with the support of vice president of marketing Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) and company co-founder Phil Knight, played by Affleck. Chris Tucker as Howard White, vice president of Jordan Brand; Matthew Maher as designer Peter Moore; Chris Messina as legendary sports agent David Falk; and Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan, Michael's mother, round out this stellar cast of the production available on Prime Video.

The script falls very short in elaborating the potential of the facts and forces Affleck to search for elements to sustain the rhythm. It is thanks to its effective direction, supported by the delights of the eighties aesthetic and the talent of the cast, that "Air" achieves a drama solid enough to meet the expectations of a "crowd-pleaser" and possible candidate in the awards season. But the result is frustrating, because despite some bets on narrative and visual language, the film opts for the conventional in a story that ironically presents itself as the risks of an unprecedented business and ends in a simplistic romanticization of capitalism.

(De)Construct a legend

While the sports drama will never go out of style, it has been on a downer in recent years. Meanwhile, corporate drama is experiencing a revival, which can be attributed to the success of shows like HBO's "Succession." To compete with this, Prime Video does a mix. The audacity of "Air" lies in its commitment to mixing these two genres and playing with their conventions, but it's an idea that doesn't quite reconcile. The “underdog” formula is used to generate empathy with Vaccaro's mission and Nike's position in the market, thus raising the melodrama with the threat of the closure of the basketball division. As it is a story with a result we already know, the tension is in the execution of the negotiation. While there are good moments, thanks to Messina's work as an erratic and angry agent, this doesn't work because the script ridicules corporate competition. How can you get excited when there's no real threat?

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That approach has a “positive” counterpart in giving the only differentiating aspect: Michael Jordan is never featured on screen. The construction of the concept of Jordan as the unique talent of a generation from the corporate apparatus is explored, the need for a differentiator that consolidates his status and legacy. A messianic figure is created that can be "worshipped" and “exploited” for profit, a potential that briefly alludes to labor exploitation in Asia and a subtext of commodity fetishism, but which is unfortunately buried in apologies for the ideas of "merit" and "talent" in the free market.

The appeal of the new corporate dramas is the moral ambiguity of their protagonists and the conflict stemming from humanity in contrast to the Machiavellian logics of control and power. In "Air", that complexity is renounced, its characters are framed in the one-dimensionality of sacrifice, passion for work and philanthropy, with the audacity to present decision-making in favor of the interests of acts of self-sacrifice or inspiring economics of a billion-dollar company.

The level of talent involved makes “Air,” on Prime Video, stand out amid the overproduction of streaming content, but it settles for the simple and effective capitalist fantasy. That doesn't make it a bad movie, but audiences looking for a memorable or groundbreaking product about the corporate world will have to settle for a $90 million commercial about Nike's “inspirational” achievement to stack millions upon their millions.

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