Although George S. Kaufman once famously noted that "satire is
what closes on Saturday night," there are clearly exceptions, and one
such exception is the terrific film THANK YOU FOR SMOKING.
Adapted from Christopher Buckley's novel by Jason Reitman,
who also makes a promising directorial debut, the film is a
multi-pronged attack on the tobacco industry, lobbyist, the media
and politics. What Buckley posited in his book -- and Reitman captures
beautifully in the film -- is just how every aspect of "spin" is
interconnected. Summed up in pithy terms: "Everybody lies."
The plot centers on Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a man profoundly
successful at his job, which is working as a lobbyist for the tobacco
industry. He's the king of spin, a man who can turn anything to his
advantage. There is nothing that he cannot talk his way out of. He's
also blithely self-aware; he knows he's selling crap but he persists.
To make him appear human, Nick has a slightly dysfunctional
relationship with his son Joey (Cameron Bright). When Nick appears at
career day at Joey's school, the boy is filled with dread. He knows
that his dad does some questionable things; what he gets, though,
is a first-hand lesson in the art of "spin." By the end of his brief talk,
Nick has practically convinced the kids that smoking is their right.
In the film's opening, Nick is a guest on a talk show hosted
by Joan Lunden where he shows up a senatorial aide (Todd Louiso)
and pledges $50 million to create a campaign to stop teenagers
from smoking. The latter doesn't sit too well with his high-strung
boss (J.K. Simmons) but it doesn't phase The Captain (Robert Duvall),
the tobacco tycoon who is essentially Naylor's boss.
He also engages in weekly meetings with fellow lobbyists
Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) who represents the alcohol industry and
Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) who fronts for the gun makers.
The trio call themselves the MOD Squad, as in Merchants of Death Squad.
They engage in banter that is bitingly funny as each one tries to one-up
the other. When Nick announces that he is due to be interviewed by
a journalist named Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), the others
There's also a side trip to Hollywood where Nick tries to
persuade an agent to incorporate smoking in a scene, Nick's
travails with his ex-wife (Kim Dickens), his romance with the journalist,
and a prickly senator from Vermont (William H. Macy) who wants him
to testify before a subcommittee.
If the film flags a little in the third act, it ends on a high
note. Reitman has directed fluidly but with a firm hand on the material.
With one or two exceptions, he has selected a brilliant cast, starting
with Eckhart. The large supporting cast also includes Sam Elliott as
a former Marlboro Man now dying of cancer, Adam Brody as an
obsequious agent's assistant, and Rob Lowe as the Zen-like agent.
The weakest link in the cast is Katie Holmes who just isn't believable
as a ruthless journalist.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING accomplishes something that is
so rare in feature films: creating a satisfying satire. Reitman is
clearly one to watch.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running time: 92 mins.
|Thank You for Smoking
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.