Presumably a sizable portion of the HE community caught those ticket-buyer sneaks of Ben Affleck‘s Air last…what was it, Friday?

The non-pro consensus seems to be that (a) early-bird critics have over-sold it (but not me — I gave it a solid 8.5 grade while adding “just don’t go expecting the world”), (b) it was a bit of an odd strategy for Michael Jordan to technically be “present” for the third-act presentation scene at Nike’s Beaverton headquarters without actually being seen or heard and letting Viola Davis do all the talking, (c) the decision not to try and inflate or amplify the story into something bigger than it is was a wise one.

So what did everyone think? Is it modestly excellent or what? Is it basically a “dad” film or will Millennials and Zoomers be able to roll with it?

Posted from Metro North train after seeing Air, 3.22, 10:30 pm:

Ben Affleck’s Air is a solid 8.5 or even a 9 —- just don’t go expecting the world. It’s a modest, well-crafted film about vision and risk and soul and salesmanship, and the best aspect, I feel, is that it doesn’t swing for the fences.

It’s an unpretentious, steady-as-she-goes sports saga that frets about stress and failure and at the same time insists over and over that “if you don’t take a risk you can’t make a gain,” which is precisely what Walter Huston’s chuckling, goat-like prospector said in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

In a way Air is just as much of a pikers-strike-it-rich story as John Huston’s 1948 classic was and is, and the stakes are just as life-and-death when you consider what might’ve happened if Nike hadn’t signed Michael Jordan and if Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro and Affleck’s Phil Knight had taken a gut punch instead.

Their down-to-business story is about marketing and branding that wound up on a super-scale, but told with a modest brush. Nothing goofy or slick or wild-ass. It starts out ordinarily or even ho-hummishly, but then it picks up a little steam and then a little more, and then little dabs of feeling are sprinkled into the second act and then spoonfuls of the stuff into the third as it gets better and better and better.

And then the big payoff moment comes, which isn’t as emotional as Jerry Maguire but then how could it be? Air isn’t about wives or girlfriends or kids or dogs…it’s strictly about business and that’s a good enough thing, trust me.

Here’s the thing: Damon’s Vaccaro is a beefalo bordering on a lardbucket, and I was bothered by this at first. But guess what? I stopped thinking about the paunch around the 30-minute mark. By the one-hour mark I’d forgotten about it entirely. This in itself says a lot.

7:55 am update: It’s being said that Viola Davis’s grounded performance as Michael Jordan’s tough negotiating mom, Deloris, is the keeper. She’ll probably be Oscar-nominated, but Damon’s Vaccaro shoulders the weight. He’s playing the poet and the singer and the believer of the piece, and it’s his best performance since…what, the second Bourne film? Or The Informant? And I love how he’s never cowed by Affleck’s Knight, calmly standing his ground, and in fact plays him at the very end. It’s brilliant. And I love Chris Messina’s tough-shithead agent who reps the Jordans and is content to eat alone.

Posted on 3.22, early afternoon: I won’t be seeing Ben Affleck‘s Air until 7:30 pm this evening, but Will Mavity’s take is infuriating. Or the excerpted quote is. I love movies that represent the sensible end of the spectrum…movies that speak rationally, work their way through a logical, non-looney tunes narrative and wind up making practical sense — an almost disappeared genre. And Mavity is calling it a fucking “dad” movie? And yet, ironically, he likes it.

Here’s the most telling paragraph:

“This is no edge-of-your-seat type thriller like Gone Baby Gone or The Town.” HE reaction: Good!

“This is a cast of charismatic actors rattling off intelligent dialogue for two hours as they approach an inevitable conclusion.” HE reaction: And that’s bad?

“And yet Air manages to be effortlessly irresistible. Like Ben Affleck, it’s something that challenges the viewer to refrain from rooting for it, flaws and all. Strip away the overt corporate branding, and it’s the kind of movie that used to be Hollywood’s bread and butter and now feels increasingly like a rarity in today’s cinematic landscape.

“It doesn’t have any grand social themes of importance, looking to make a change in today’s world. It’s a simple, competently told, feel-good drama that will likely appeal to your dad, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”