Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Ben Affleck
scr Alex Convery
prd David Ellison, Jesse Sisgold, Jon Weinbach, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
with Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Julius Tennon, Marlon Wayans, Gustaf Skarsgard, Barbara Sukowa, Jay Mohr
release US/UK 5.Apr.23
23/US Warners 1h52

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A snappy script by Alex Convery makes the most of a story that could have been both niche and predictable. And director Ben Affleck approaches this as a tale about much more than trainers and basketball: it's an ode to risk-taking, to being willing to do things in a way they've never been done before. The film also boasts a first-rate cast creating lived-in characters who are surprisingly engaging.
In 1984, Nike is known as a running shoe company, struggling to kickstart its basketball division amid competition from Converse and Adidas. Then scout Sonny (Damon) spots rookie Michael Jordan and becomes determined to get him on-board. His boss Rob (Bateman) takes some convincing, while zen-master company founder Frank (Affleck) is dubious about the high cost. Then Sonny goes around Jordan's agent (Messina) to speak to his parents (Davis and Tennon), risking his job. And he asks Frank to bet the whole company on a player who hasn't yet proven himself in the big league.
While the plot itself is largely made up of meetings and phone calls, Affleck never allows the film to become static, thanks to Robert Richardson's sometimes over-whizzy camerawork and a steady stream of iconic 1980s power rock on the soundtrack. And then there's the sharply hilarious script, which plays skilfully with the sparky characters and deeper themes. All of this reels the audience in, somehow generating suspense even though we all know where it's headed. And viewers who don't care about the basketball or businesses will still care about these people.

Each performance is simply terrific, making these normal people thoroughly memorable. Damon and Bateman are likeably complex as the story's anchors, smart guys with different approaches but a similar dream. Their tenacity and openness are sometimes thrilling to watch. Davis is superbly understated as the steely Mrs Jordan. And everyone else is in hugely entertaining scene-stealing mode, including Affleck's hilarious aphorism-spouting Frank, Tucker's blustering Nike vice president, Messina's riotously foul-mouthed agent and Maher's nerdy genius shoe designer.

The film is so well-assembled that we never really mind that the story itself isn't hugely interesting. It's also not particularly inspiring, as the time and situation is so specific that it can't promise anyone that they'll become as insanely rich. But the story does have something to say about following your heart rather than conventional wisdom, and about a corporation that remains connected and human rather than merely worshiping the profit margins. But then, all of these people became insanely rich.

cert 15 themes, language 27.Mar.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall