Thank You for Smoking

by Alan Rapp on April 14, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Thank You for Smoking
  • IMDB: link

“Death is easy; comedy is hard.”

“Satire is fascinating stuff…it’s the only thing that makes any sense.”

Big Tobacco is constantly under attack from all sides.  That’s where Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) comes in.  He’s their chief spokesman who can spin any situation to his advantage making both himself and the Tobacco Lobby look good in the process.  How does he do it?  It’s a gift.

At the same time Nick is trying to help raise his impressionable 12 year-old son Joey (Cameron Bright), giving an interview to an attractive young reporter (Katie Holmes), fighting a Senate Investigating Committee headed by anti-tobacco Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy) and trying to pay-off the Malboro Man (Sam Elliott) who is dying of cancer and ready to speak against Big Tobacco to the press.

Aaron Eckhart is the heart and soul of this film as everything rests on his performance, and he delivers an Oscar caliber performance.  Not only does he make Nick Naylor compassionate but he actually starts to persuade you with his arguments as well.  With a warmth and charm he actually makes you believe Big Tobacco isn’t really that bad.  Is it?

The supporting cast is terrific.  Macy and Holmes give just the right blend of humor, incredulity, and outrage.  Rob Lowe has a small role as a Hollywood producer who Big Tobacco wants to make a film where people smoke in space.  Pretty funny stuff.  And Elliot’s performance of the the fallen man tempted one last time is one of those scenes which will stay with you long after the film ends.

My favorites scenes are between Naylor and his counterparts for alcohol (Maria Bello) and guns (David Koechner).  These meetings of the Merchants of Death Squad give the only moments where the guard gets let down and the truth is actually told as they talk about how easily it is to manipulate people, and argue over which is more dangerous and which one of them has the hardest job.

Despite the title and the spin, the movie doesn’t come down against Tobacco, at least not hard.  In the end the film states that everyone has a choice, that they’ve been told upfront what the consequences of that choice, and yet they still can choose on their own what to do.  It admits all the negatives and yet still argues, quite charmingly, that people have the right to make choices for themselves – even if some of those choices are dangerous.  After all, as the film states, life itself is dangerous.  Unbelievably, it a passionate patriotic message about liberty and freedom.

The film is a dark, biting, and hysterical satire of the Tobacco Lobby and the spin they use to hid the truth about their products and the effects.  What makes it work is it is so grounded in reality and so real and a tad sad it becomes incredibly fun to watch.  Director Jason Reitman finds just the right use of subtlety and outrageous humor to make a comedy that I think will stand the test of time.  It think his dad (Ghostbusters) is proud.  It’s sly, clever,  and engaging from beginning to end.  And if I haven’t mentioned it yet, it’s also very, very, very funny.

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