Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking

****

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Meet Nick Naylor. You'll like him. He's smart, funny and great company. He's hardworking, successful and loves his son, as well.

He'd also like you to smoke cigarettes. A lot of them. And he's still going to make you like him afterwards.

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Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is chief lobbyist for the American tobacco industry, which means he's the holy doctor of spin. In fact, he's so good at it he has become the self-proclaimed "Colonel Sanders of Nicotine," spinning better, smoother and longer than an aerobie. No matter whom - a classroom of young school children, a baying primetime TV audience, or a terminally ill Marlboro poster cowboy, he's got the angles covered to always come out winning for the cancer sticks.

The fact that Thank You can make such a potentially loathsome character seem anything but is its master stroke, relying on another great performance from Eckhart, as he delivers writer/director Jason Reitman's smartly satirical lines. With estimable control and understatement, he makes Naylor a passionate, charming and fast-talking guy, who revels in the beauty of argument. What he's peddling may not appeal, but he still will.

When he's oozing intelligent charisma, appeal he certainly does, especially to his 12-year-old son Joey (Cameron Bright), who just wants to know what dad does for a living. It's their father-and-son-fulfilling-the-each-others'-expectations relationship that gives the film its deceptively simple emotional core. However else is Reitman going to keep the audience rooting for him when he lobbies to undermine the known damage of cigarettes?

The debuting Reitman handles the film with inventive style and confident assurance. He's adapted Christopher Buckley's acerbic novel to good effect and focussing on the Nick-Joey bond is key to bringing it successfully to the screen. He actually humanises the character a bit more - paternal relationships are always a bit of a winner in the movies.

Reitman is still determined to employ Buckley's scattergun approach when it comes to the subject of spin. This isn't just a rant against the dangers of cigarettes; we know all about that. And it isn't just a concerted swipe at those who know we know about that, but also about making us smoke anyway. Reitman critiques the social phenomenon of industrial spin, of which the tobacco companies are perhaps the best. So it is that guns, alcohol, movies, product placement, fast food and political lobbying also get smart slaps across the chops.

Going for so many targets reduces the power of the message, that spin is everywhere and it's a bit bad really, no matter who's doing the peddling, but the combined intelligent satire and black irreverent tone used to say so is brilliant. There are some laugh-out-loud moments with almost everyone concerned, from Rob Lowe's glacial Hollywood agent to the inspired William H Macy's anti-tobacco ranting senator - anyone who can pass off, "The great state of Vermont will not apologise for its cheese!" so passionately and hilariously deserves more awards!

Most of the players are slight caricatures in comparison to Naylor's layered personality, but the best humour and debate comes from his three-person M.O.D squad. In the Ministry Of Death, Naylor is joined by the Numero Uno spinners for the gun (David Koechner) and alcohol (Maria Bello) industries. As they swap PR notes and boast about which one clocks up the most fatalities, the un-PC ironic humour is brave and a genuine delight. Aiming at so much means a bull's-eye is less likely, but this shooting gallery is great, meaningful fun.

A Mensa level above the recent plethora of grossouts, this is one of the most intelligent and well played US comedies for years.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2006
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Thank You For Smoking packshot
Satire on smoking and spin.
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Read more Thank You For Smoking reviews:

Anton Bitel ****
The Exile ***

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H Macy, JK Simmons, Robert Duvall, Kim Dickens

Year: 2005

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2006

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