Thank You For Smoking


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Thank You For Smoking
"Played so amiably that you barely notice how prickly its barbs are until they have dug right in."

Even though he is accustomed to being despised for his role as professional apologist for the tobacco industry, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is having a particularly tough week. As he helps his 12-year-old son Joey (Cameron Bright) prepare for a school presentation on why American government is the best government ("We do have a very entertaining government," he concedes), Nick is also squaring off publicly with anti-smoking Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H Macy), bribing one-time "Marlboro Man" Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott) to keep quiet about his awkward case of lung cancer and facing death threats from a group of anonymous activists.

Fortunately, Nick has plenty of distractions: a trip to LA to make arrangements with super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) and his right-hand yes-man Jack (Adam Brody) about product placement of cigarettes in a forthcoming sci-fi blockbuster, some not entirely professional tete-a-tetes with young journalist Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) to fill her in for a profile piece and there is always time to meet with his fellow alcohol and firearms lobbyists Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) - collectively known as the MOD (Merchants Of Death) Squad - and swap statistics on whose industry is killing the most people annually, confident in the knowledge that, as his patriarchal boss (Robert Duvall) so rightly puts it, "Tobacco takes care of its own."

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As Nick teaches his young son that "if you argue correctly, you are never wrong," it might at first be imagined that this Machiavellian mouthpiece for the murderous tobacco corporations is too irredeemably unscrupulous to engage our sympathies for more than the time it takes to inhale through a filter.

In the topsy-turvy world of Thank You For Smoking, Nick seems relatively decent, well adjusted and even lovable compared to the politicians, media rats and Hollywood players whose paths he occasionally crosses. By the end, whether through clever argument, or pernicious spin, he has become the unexpected advocate of choice, free speech and other lynchpins of liberalism, while his opponents are positioned as at best hypocritical and at worst fascistic. Of course, this is double-edged, but such extra sharpness is the mark of great satire and here the cynicism cuts very deep indeed.

The feature debut of Jason Reitman, adapted from Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel, with new emphasis on Nick's relationship with his son, Thank You For Smoking is a sweeping portrayal of the corruption and manipulation that constitute the American Way, as well as a smoke-filled primer of the last 100 years of US history, played so amiably that you barely notice how prickly its barbs are until they have dug right in. Even a line like, "I'm going to impale your mom on a spike and feed her dead body to my dog with syphilis," can become, in Brody's jovial delivery, an endearing greeting.

Eckhart holds it all together, cashing in on the alpha-male credentials he earned in In The Company Of Men, and presenting us with a character far easier to like, if still every bit as loathsome. Like the cigarettes he peddles, he puts a satisfied smile on your face even if you know he's not good for you.

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:

Paul Griffiths ****
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


Sundance 2006

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