The smart, cute opening title tells you everything you need to know about Thank You for Smoking: it’s about the tobacco industry, it’s smart, and it’s cute. Just about the only thing it doesn’t say is that it’s a darn good satire.
Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is the VP of The Academy of Tobacco Studies, an institution that is supposed to conduct research on the harmful health effects of cigarette smoking. In reality, Naylor is a lobbyist for and the voice and face of Big Tobacco. His boyish charm, his knack for gab and perfect skills of spinning earn him the trust of “the Captain” (Duvall), the granddaddy of the industry. His appearance on the Joan Lunden show sets off a series of propaganda battles, and Senator Finistirre (Macy) is out to draw blood. Despite his better judgment, Naylor also quickly becomes sexually involved with a beautiful reporter, Heather Holloway (Holmes), who is doing an article on the tobacco industry.
Meanwhile, Naylor wants to be a good father. His ex-wife (Kim Dickens) hates him, but he wants to spend some quality time with his son Joey (Bright). So he takes Joey with him on his business trips. Joey’s presence gives Naylor the opportunity to question his morality, and the reasons why he’s doing what he does.
Eckhart (Suspect Zero) carries the film beautifully as the slick lobbyist. His character is loathed by millions of people, and we do question this guy’s morals. However, Eckhart is endearing and charming, and totally believable as a man caught between his ambition and conscience.
The supporting cast includes a long list of named and veteran actors who all give excellent performances: Macy (Sahara) for his portrayal of the flustered Senator; Simmons (Spider-Man) as Naylor’s backstabbing boss, B R; Holmes (Batman Returns) as the sexy, ambitious, and ruthless reporter; Duvall (Kicking and Screaming) as the fatherly Big Tobacco tycoon; Lowe (Austin Powers) as the smooth Hollywood super-agent; Bello (A History of Violence) and Koechner (The 40 Year Old Virgin) as Naylor’s friends and fellow lobbyists; and Bright (Birth) as Naylor’s curious and adoring son.
Writer-director Reitman (Consent) has written a smart and fun script based on Christopher Buckley’s best-selling novel. The political satire takes aims at just about everyone, from Big Tobacco to lobbyists, from Hollywood agents to the news media, from the Marlboro Man to school kids. The dialogue is sharp and biting. The plot, while predictable, is fast-paced and entertaining. Reitman also manages to balance the satire with heart. The film has a light and contemporary style, coupled with Naylor’s witty first-person narration. The unique and appropriate voice gives the film a personal feel, reminding me of last year’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer.
The characterization of Nick Naylor and the development of his relationship with his son give the story an emotional weight in addition to its intellectual barbs. Reitman also succeeds in wrapping all the morality in an engaging story without hitting us on the head with it. But the message is clear: It’s not about right or wrong; it’s about freedom to choose. Given the current political climate where everyone wants to tell others what to do, Mr. Reitman: Thank you for saying that.
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, J.K. Simmons, William H. Macy, Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Cameron Bright, Maria Bello, David Koechner
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman (based on novel by Christopher Buckley)
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 92 minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.6 out of 10