Entire societies have been constructed based on the eternal battle between good versus evil, right versus wrong, and not to mention freedom versus tyranny. These epic battles have always taken place with clear-cut sides, a predominantly black and white affair. But what has become of modern society? We are less drawn to the great good versus evil story. Rather, we are capable of being controlled by those who are able to blur the lines between one side and the other. Such is the subject of Thank You for Smoking, a dangerously heartwarming new comedy from Jason Reitman, son of the legendary Ivan Reitman.
Thank You for Smoking is the tale of Nick Naylor. Nick is the man whose job it is to stand up for big tobacco; and he is extremely good at what he does. The proclaimed “Sultan of Spin,” Naylor travels the country casting shadows over the dangers of smoking, allowing those whom he serves to profit off of the addictive substance. But as mounting pressure from a Liberal Senator from Vermont, played by William H. Macy, begins to throw Naylor into the battle of his career, he is torn between the job at which he has become incomparably successful and his place as a role model for his 12-year-old son, Joey. With his arrogance and his smooth way with words, Nick sets forth on his journey through the highs and lows of being the marked man at the top of one of the world’s most despised entities.
With a cold, quick wit that leaves any audience with a feeling of conflicted emotions, this film takes us into the satirical world of big tobacco, big politics, and big spins. Aaron Eckhart is absolutely brilliant as the morally bankrupt, yet endearing Naylor. He delivers what is easily one of the first great performances of the year. At first, you have no intentions of liking Nick Naylor due to the very nature of his business. But as the story moves forth, his armor built of deception, sarcasm, and irreverence chips away to unveil a father longing to be the heroic figure in the life of his young son. And without the genuine spirit that sits below the audacious veneer of Aaron Eckhart, it would be improbable to say that audiences would be able to relate to, much less fall in love with, the main character. Combine that with an excellent ensemble around him, and you have what could go down as one of the best performances by not only an actor, but an entire cast so far this year.
The film has a very unique look and feel to it. It is very quick, just like the wit of its leading man, but it does not lose anything with its pace. It can also be looked upon as very intriguing, visually. Jason Reitman’s opening act as a director resembles that of a seasoned veteran. The scenes in which Naylor is interacting with the world of big tobacco (in the office of his boss, the home of the Marlboro Man, etc.) have a very distinct color tone to them. It reminds you of any time you have spent in the home of a chronic smoker with its taupe/yellow tint; a very welcomed style that puts you into the mindset of being in a world of second hand smoke.
A hilariously devious romp through the world of spin, Thank You for Smoking is an absolute guilty pleasure like no other. You may try to distance yourself from enjoying it based on the subject matter, but you cannot help but to be drawn to Naylor’s underlying honesty, no matter how hard he spins his wheel of lies. It is the first film I have seen all year that really has it all with its excellent rhythm, superb performances, and its sensational visual style. Hands down one of the best of 2006 thus far, no spin necessary.
The Upside: Absolutely hilarious! A truly enjoyable night at the movies, guaranteed.
The Downside: At times it can be a little over the top and comical, but it is all in good taste.
On the Side: Jason Reitman wrote individual letters to each of the stars in the film telling them why they would be right for the part. Every one of his first choices accepted their parts (almost unheard of in Hollywood) and most thanked Reitman for his great letter.
Final Grade: A
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, William H. Macy, and Cameron Bright
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Writing Credits: Jason Reitman (screenplay) Christopher Buckley (novel)
Release Date: April 14th, 2006 (wide release) January 20, 2006 (Sundance Film Festival)
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Run Time: 92 min.
Studio: Fox Searchlight
By Neil Miller, Editor of Film School Rejects