Thank You for Smoking (2005) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual content
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, William H. Macy, Katie Holmes, J.K. Simmons, Robert Duvall, Maria Bello, David Koechner, Adam Brody, Rob Lowe, Sam Elliott, Joan Lunden, Dennis Miller
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Jason Reitman (based on the novel by Christopher Buckley)
Review published April 26, 2006
Adapted from the novel by Christopher Buckley, son of political commentator/author William F. Buckley, Thank You for Smoking marks the feature-length debut of writer/director Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman. The apple didnít seem to fall too far from the tree in either case, as both the book and feature film are effective, inspired, funny and thoughtful, showing that the sons have learned much from the fathers Ė a theme that is very prevalent throughout the course of the story.
At its core, Thank You for Smoking is a satire, poking fun at all angles of the debate. The pro-tobacco lobby is shown in just as unfavorable a light as those politicians that have taken the anti-smoking mantle, while those that fall in between are challenged to think for themselves, all the while being manipulated by those same forces claiming they are doing no such thing. The moral to the story is that there are no morals anymore, despite the fact that everyone uses morality to push forward their agenda. The debate is spin vs. counter-spin, while the truth is ignored in favor of self-aggrandizement and political angling. Itís not about right or wrong Ė itís about who wins the argument thatís important.
Aaron Eckhart (Suspect Zero, Paycheck) stars as tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, who regularly makes appearances on behalf of the tobacco industry to argue against the assertions made by the anti-smoking movement as to such things as nicotine's addictive qualities and the detriment of smoking to one's overall health. Nick may be a success as a brilliant conniver, but his wife (now ex) had been fed up with his lies long ago, while his son Joey finds him to be an embarrassment. However, during a little road trip, Joey (Bright, Birth) soon gets to see what his daddy does first-hand, as the tricks of the silver-tongued trade are revealed, a bold and ingenious strategy of winning the argument by convincing the American public to disregard years of documented research by challenging the weakest links and throwing up straw men to fight against. It's attack and defend, as Naylor tries to thwart a bill that would see a "Poison" label on every pack of cigarettes, while also trying to promote the "coolness" of smoking by making sure it is shown regularly in popular movies.
Thank You for Smoking is a funny movie in a subversive way; itís not a laugh-riot in the slightest, and in fact, you may rarely laugh out loud at all. All the same, the amusement level is certainly high, featuring more than enough witticisms to quote from it during many a smoking argument in the future.
At the same time, itís also not really about smoking, at least not in its core themes. What itís really about is the art of argumentation, in this case, by a man who champions a cause that very few in their right mind would champion, which is, of course, the virtues of smoking. Turning an argument on its ear, never backing down and using someoneís own words against him is what itís all about, like a snake-oil salesman for the modern day. Turn on the radio or television talk shows and youíll find no end to the Nick Naylors of the world.
If thereís anything one takes away from Thank You for Smoking, other than its obvious entertainment value, itís that we, the general public, should always educate ourselves as to the truth on our own, not relying solely on spokespersons, politicians, pundits, or anyone else that claims to be an ďexpertĒ with only the power of persuasion on his side. Whether smoking is right or wrong isnít so much an issue as an example, a token argument if you will, of an debate that becomes a farce when handed over to those that have made a career at doing nothing but obfuscation and misdirection in order to walk away a winner from no-win discussions, without even having to study the subject at hand.
Lest I forget, the film is good beyond just the core themes. Reitman's direction is energetic and inventive, mixing in amusing musical cues and snippets to enhance the sensory humor in subtle but effective ways. The casting is also excellent, especially from Aaron Eckhart as the conniving Naylor, who manages to retain his likeability despite doing and saying some despicable things for his own, and the corporate interest's, profit -- "moral felixibility" is his credo. Reitman's approach is a bit scattershot, but always interesting, filled with amusing asides and plot developments.
Of course, I realize the irony of doing this review, which is little more than an argument in itself as to why Thank Your for Smoking is a good film. I donít claim to be right in my assessment, which is, of course, a matter of opinion. However, like the film states, in its not-so-obvious way, if you ever want to truly know, youíll just have to find out for yourself.
©2006 Vince Leo