In Ben Affleck’s masterful and breathtaking contribution to sports cinema, Air, Chris Messina reinvents the concept of chew decor. Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk is first shown alone in his office, on the phone with Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro. Her hair, blessed with a gray streak, is gelled to the gods. Her eyebrows are freshly groomed. He wears a suit that can cost as much as a used car and a tie that can cost as much as a normal suit. He talks smugly, his mouth full – of food, but also of scenery. But the big Messina scene comes later in the film, after Falk finds out that Vaccaro spoke directly to Michael Jordan’s mother. With his hair ungelled, suit jacket removed, and suspenders hanging from his waist, Falk yells into the phone that he’s going to bury Vaccaro alive, fuck the hole in his skull, and chew his balls. The spit comes out of Messina’s mouth as if it were Jonathan Groff in hamilton. All at once, he is Ari Gold, Selina Meyer and Kendall Roy.

The Chew Landscape Concept—play a role “in a very energetic And emotional way, it can seem artificial instead that natural– is as old as the acting profession, and has been present since the beginnings of cinema. And Messina’s performance lives up to some of the greatest performances of all time: Nicolas Cage in DreamerAnthony Hopkins in ThesilenceofthelambsMichael Sheen in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–Part 2, And Affleck himself in The last duel. Air is a movie about men who get emotional about a basketball shoe (which among us doesn’t?). This includes Matt Damon shopping at 7-Eleven, Jason Bateman monologue in an ’80s wig about his daughter, and Affleck running around in a neon pink outfit (complete with leggings). And yet, Messina is his rude MVP.

Guys who deserve a bar of soap in their mouth are a character type in their own right at this point. The Messina crisis in Air remember Succession, especially Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, both for the fast-paced, graphic dialogue and the way it’s filmed (claustrophobically, in an office). Like the explosions of Kendall, of her bathroom failure in the pilot At “family therapy!” singingFalk’s outburst is defined by explosive body language and creative f-bombsan explosion of pent up emotions.

dead woodAl Swearengen, played by the incomparable Ian McShane, was also known for his colorful language, poetically uttering words like “fuck” and “motherfucker” roughly every three seconds. In her performance as Falk, Messina applies similar artistry to words such as fuck, nut and balls, creating variations no one knew possible. The performance is also reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire And Thunder in the tropics. The way Cruise as Maguire crumbles over relatively insignificant events, sweating maniacally, yelling at everyone, snatching fish from the company tank; the way his studio head Les Grossman utters words like “fuckstick” and threatens to stick Matthew McConaughey’s cock in his own ass. Cruise, like McShane and Strong, delivers a few threats quietly, but snaps unexpectedly. In AirMessina is all snap.

Messina has established himself as a fiery character actor over the past few years. Prior to this pivot, he was best known for playing love interests on television. (By privileged fewhe was known for his small role in You’ve got mail as a ripped employee of Fox Books.) A common thread running through Messina’s notable characters – except for his small role in You’ve got mail– is a small snark. In The Mindy Project, Messina played Dr. Danny Castellano, an Italian gynecologist/little king who was mysterious, devoutly Catholic, and a bit too close to his mother. He was mean, but he also had a big heart. In the 2018 HBO miniseries Sharp objects, Her Majesty played Richard Willis, a charming but slightly smug detective who travels from Kansas City to the small town of Wind Gap to investigate the murder of two young girls. The character was a departure from Danny Castellano, but still had enough of that signature Messina edge to inspire at least one fancam game at an indie girl cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. The shift to more idiosyncratic roles began with the 2020s Birds of prey, in which Messina played the truly chaotic henchman and possible boyfriend of Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis. Messina barely says a word in the role, but her presence is all-powerful. He has a smile that leaves you wondering if you should laugh or run for your life (maybe both?), and a bleach job that set the internet on fire.

Messina’s performance in Air, like its 80s frame, is forgiving. He turns culinary games into an art, like Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven. He waves a small sword around his desk. But Messina’s greatest accomplishment is that his film-stealing performance is 90% phone play. Even though he is “on the phone” with Damon for most of his scenes, he is technically alone, unable to feed off his scene partner. “Telephone gaming sucks! It’s really sucksMessina, who watched Robert Duvall’s phone call scenes in Network for inspiration, said Vulture. And yet, he kills him, proving he can be just as powerful and magnetic as Damon or Affleck.

Messina only has one “I’ll eat your nuts” tantrum scene in Air. But that’s enough. After his big moment, he steps back, even as the threat of a snap hangs like smoke in the air. At any moment, he could start screaming that he was eating someone’s balls. In Falk’s final scene, Messina chews both figuratively and literally. After the resounding success of the Air Jordan, Falk sits alone in a restaurant eating a large salad (nobody gets in the way of a little Italian king and his big salad). Messina does not speak. He simply consumes. It is the satisfaction of a man who has conquered his industry, who has no more “fuck” to deliver. And Messina gives everything to performance. His body and face are finally relaxed – his anger is gone and all he needed to let it go was a shoe that made $126 million in one year. “The Man Eats Salad” is the perfect ending to a perfect performance by Profane Guy, which will hopefully define the future of Chris Messina’s career as a character actor.

Carrie Wittmer is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with bylines in Vulture, Consequence of soundAnd Harper’s Bazaar. She tweets at @carriesnotscary.