Perfectly pleasant, adept, and without a moment of originality, a very nice 2 hours delving into Michael Jordan and his first sneaker contract. You will likely enjoy the movie, and then you’ll never think about it again.
Of note is the easy charm of Ben Affleck as Nike founder Phil Knight, the dogged everyman turn by Matt Damon playing Nike basketball scout Sonny Vaccaro, the wry Jason Bateman (Nike Marketing manager Rob Strasser), and the steely resolve of Viola Davis playing Michael Jordan’s mother. All give superb, professional, wholly unchallenging turns that complement both each other and Alex Converey’s tight, predictable script. Marlon Wayans playing Jordan coach and confidante George Raveling also contributes in a poignant scene where he advises Vaccaro on how to approach the budding star.
On the minus side, this is a movie about signing a basketball player to a shoe deal, and the film doesn’t really find anything particularly insightful about this mundane negotiation, other than Damon’s dawning that Jordan will be a God amongst men. So godly is His Airness that while he is present, inexplicably, we only see the back of his head. Jordan never speaks, which both reinforces the picture’s theme that he is near-deity and serves as a tremendous cop-out and missed opportunity.
I mean, don’t we all want to know what God thinks when negotiating a shoe deal?
Mind you, the script is larded with b.s. Nike’s underdog status in the competition to sign Jordan is poppycock, as is the fact that his agent David Falk (a hilariously entertaining Chris Messina) was hostile to the deal. The dollar amount the young upstart company was allotted to go after Jordan is also understated by half. And Vaccaro never made the decision to breach negotiating etiquette by going over Falk’s head to visit Jordan’s parents in North Carolina, a fiction seminal to the movie.
The mushy camaraderie of this band of Nike visionaries may also have been a bit much. Worse, the truth may have made for a more interesting picture. Per Slate, “Vaccaro, as might be expected, disputes all these other versions of events robustly, saying “Phil Knight’s lying, Michael’s lying more than Phil, and Raveling is insane. All three of them need to destroy me to live happily ever after. Everyone’s trying to rewrite history. It goes beyond Jordan. I am the savior of Nike.’ It seems that Vaccaro, far from being the easygoing, collegial guy the film depicts, had a tendency to burn bridges. He fell out with Raveling in 1991 and was fired by Nike without explanation that same year.’” Now, that’s a guy I want to see a movie about, not the milk-and-cookies, faux cynical but really schmaltzo character Damon cooks up.
Okay. It’s not a documentary – enough of my curmudgeonly nitpicking. There is certainly greater appeal here for others. When I watched Winning Time on HBO – the laughably ridiculous rendition of the Lakers ascent in the late 70s/early 80s at the advent of Magic Johnson – it was hard to stifle a laugh throughout, and my wife and daughter joined in. But they also liked the series more than me. It was set in a milieu and about a subject they knew nothing about and they were more than happy to enjoy it without worrying about accuracy or any hackneyed presentations. Here too, though she found if “Hallmarky,” my daughter dug Air and noted that she didn’t really know much about any of it before seeing the movie.
Also, if you pine for all things 80s, from Cyndi Lauper to Tecmo Bowl to skateboards, run, don’t moonwalk, to Amazon Prime, because this thing is loaded with “Let’s Get Physical” Reagan-era montages.