THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
*** (out of 5)
April 7, 2006
Aaron Eckhart as NICK NAYLOR
Maria Bello as POLLY BAILEY
Adam Brody as JACK
Sam Elliott as LORNE LUTCH
Katie Holmes as HEATHER HOLLOWAY
Rob Lowe as JEFF MEGALL
William H. Macy as SENATOR ORTOLAN K. FINNISTIRRE
Robert Duvall as DOAK “THE CAPTAIN” BOYKIN
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: Jason Reitman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Many will tell you that “Thank You for Not Smoking” is a satirical look at the smoking lobby, taking equal shots at both sides of the argument. However, don’t be fooled by the packaging. There is a clear anti-smoking bent to the film.
Sure, they take hits at the self-righteous congressmen who try to appear caring by being hard on Big Tobacco. There’s a whole character devoted to this (played expertly by William H. Macy). However, this is a token character and too easy of a target. The bulk of the film depicts the tobacco lobbyists (along with the alcohol and firearm lobbyists) as some of the most dastardly people in the world.
I’d be more apt to label “Thank You for Smoking” as an anti-lobbyist movie, but the filmmakers really only take shots at the one side of the lobby. In reality, all lobbyists are cut from the same cloth – whether they represent Big Tobacco, fight for gay marriage, seek the elimination of olestra from the American diet or are members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
For the most part, “Thank You For Smoking” does stay away from preaching about tobacco, and that’s a good thing. After all, is there any creature on this planet that doesn’t understand the dangers of smoking? Is there any smoker out there – man, woman or child – who honestly believes that smoking is harmless, let alone good for you? I don’t think so. I don’t think there ever were.
I do wish the film would have been a little less one-sided on the lobbyists. Why not expose the whole industry, including the lawmakers who want to fund social programs with cigarette taxes. If cigarettes are so dangerous, why not make them illegal? Nope. Some people would rather keep the cancer sticks on the streets to fund their special projects.
Okay… I’m off my soap box. Back to the movie.
Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, the premiere lobbyist for Big Tobacco. He’s the expert spin doctor, using junk science and fast talk to defend the makers of cigarettes in America. Told more as a profile of the character, Nick takes the audience through his life and job. We learn how he manipulates the press and the victims of his cause, including how he convinces an old tobacco spokesman to drop his lawsuits after being stricken with lung cancer.
Nick is put in charge of trying to increase teen smoking by improving its image in Hollywood. He’s trying to be a good father to his son, who ends up learning some of his more smarmy tricks when Nick becomes a mentor to him. However, the delicate house of cards Nick has built starts to crumble when he is interviewed by a sexy young journalist about his public tactics. Nick also faces a new enemy – anti-smoking terrorists who plan to kidnap and kill him.
The cast is well constructed, featuring a gallery of excellent supporting character actors. In fact, many of them overshadow the lukewarm Eckhart. The one that stands out to me is J.K. Simmons, whom many might remember as the newspaper editor in the “Spider-Man” movies. As Nick’s high-strung and cantankerous boss, he’s perfect. If only he had more to do in the film.
Most of “Thank You for Smoking” is smartly told and crafted. However, there is something Nick does that is completely out of character for the shrewdest man in Washington. The greatest spin doctor alive wouldn’t follow the path that Nick does, and that’s a tragic flaw in the script. However, if you can inhale this plot point without going into a coughing fit, you should do well through the rest of the film.