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Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking

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Thank You for Smoking is a surprisingly hilarous, biting satire of lobbying – in the form of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Played with perfection by Eckhart, Naylor becomes a character we, the audience, want to see more of – he turns someone who should be unlikeable into a sympathetic character.

Our first introduction to Naylor is on a talk show about smoking and cancer. Naylor shares the stage with a 15-year-old boy who is dying from cancer (and had recently stopped smoking), and Naylor turns the audience’s hostility towards him around by saying Big Tobacco wants the boy to live — so he can continue to be a smoker — and it’s the anti-smoking bunch that wants him to die. It’s a hilarious opening to a great film, directed with unexpected maturity by 29-year-old Jason Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman). Reitman, who also wrote the screenplay (based on the book by Christopher Buckley), deftly conducts the actions on-screen, maintaining a certain tone and not veering the film off the path of satire.

Naylor meets frequently with his friends, fellow lobbyists, known as the “MOD” squad (Merchants of Death): alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and firearms lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner). In their funny scenes, the trio argues over which of their products causes the most deaths.

After his talk show appearance, Naylor becomes something of a celebrity, and a Washington, D.C. journalist, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) wants an interview. Naylor not only grants the interview, but the two begin an affair, with Naylor, well, making a lot of what he thinks are off-the-record comments to Holloway. The comments not only turn out to be on-the-record, but they end up in the article Holloway writes about Naylor. Needless to say, his world is turned upside down.

With everything going on in his world, Nick Naylor is trying to be a good father to his son Joey. There’s a great scene when Nick comes to Joey’s school for one of those “what do your parents do for a living” talks. “Please don’t ruin my childhood,” Joey pleads as his father talks to the kids, eventually cross-examining a little girl who says her mother said smoking is bad for you. “Oh, is your mother a doctor?” Naylor asks the bewildered little girl. “She’s hardly a credible expert.”

There is a sub-plot involving Naylor’s firm trying to get smoking put back into the movies. Naylor meets with movie producer Jeff Megall and the two figure out how to get smoking back into movies: set the film in the future, after cigarettes have been declared safe.

Meanwhile, a powerful senator, Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy), is holding hearings on having a poison label placed on packs of cigarettes. The plot winds its way down to Naylor testifying before the Senator’s committee, pointing out that Finistirre’s home state, Vermont, produces cheese that clogs arteries… should cheese have warning labels, too? “The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!” Finistirre fumes.

There are many great moments in Thank You for Smoking, and the film as a whole is just terrific. The satire is biting and skewers all targets equally. Jason Reitman will be a name to look for in the future. He has a great future ahead of him, if Thank You for Smoking is any indication. Highly recommended.

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About scottcsmith

  • Triniman

    It’s on my must-see list! I wonder when it opens in Canada?

  • Steve

    It’s playing in Toronto, Canada right now at least. Seems like they were trying a slow roll out, it was only on downtown a week ago, but it’s spreading out through the city now.