Thank You For Smoking

2006-12-31 11:14


Smoking isn't bad for you. Or at least not according to Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), chief spokesman for the Institute for Tobacco Research (AKA Big Tobacco). In fact Nick makes a living, and a darn good one, defending the rights of smokers and the people who make their cigarettes. He is pretty near fearless, facing hostile audiences on live TV talk shows and angry anti-smoking lobbyists with grace, style and a razor sharp tongue. Of course his notoriety makes him a tempting target for smoking's many opponents, like a moralistic senator from Vermont (William H Macy), and a determined young investigative reporter (Katie Holmes). But Nick's biggest challenge is much closer to home. How can he possibly convince his own son (Cameron Bright) not to start smoking when all he does, all day long, is defend it?


There's nothing more delicious than a good dose of satire. When handled properly it can be comedy with a purpose, social commentary without the boring bits, and a reminder that life is, above all, wonderfully ridiculous. But the genre is also notoriously hard to get right - just look at American Dreamz - and this often keeps it off the mainstream film circuit. This scarcity only makes us appreciate the razor wit of Thank You For Smoking all the more.

The thing that really sets Thank You For Smoking apart is the quality of the writing. Adapted by director Jason Reitman from the novel by Christopher Buckley, the screenplay zings and zips along with such infectious mirth that it is able to say the most shocking things and get away with it. And, though the film is stuffed with hilarious dialogue and quirky characters, it never loses sight of its many targets. Behind every joke is a stinging barb and, as in any good satire, few people will be able to avoid all of them.

Even better, Reitman and Buckley are equal opportunity slashers, taking as much joy in lampooning the bleeding heart anti-smokers as they do the pro-tobacco reptiles. But, despite its title, the film's main target is actually the extra-slimy world of lobbyists and spin doctors. Armed with only charm, wit and unbelievable audacity, these are the people who defend the undefendable - who stand up for corporations against the very innocents they have harmed.

Finding an actor to capture Nick Naylor's combination of allure and amorality can't have been easy, but Aaron Eckhart seems born to play the role. As he grins good-naturedly out of the screen, you find yourself beginning to agree with him, even identify with him, however hideous the sentiments he is proposing. He is just so darn charming, you can't resist, particularly since he is the only character who is completely honest with the audience.

The supporting cast are just as delightful. Filled with seasoned professionals like William H Macy, Maria Bello and Robert Duvall, the cast all seem to be enjoying the film as much as we do. There's a particularly marvelous cameo by Sam Elliott as a "Marlborough Man" who has caught lung cancer - it's one of the funniest and most poignant sequences in the film.

Another remarkable thing about the movie is its long journey to the screen. Optioned by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, it languished for nearly a decade until youngster Jason Reitman convinced them to let him adapt it. Icon loved the screenplay, but still shelved it. Reitman went in search of investors and found newly minted Internet billionaire David O Sacks (of PayPal fame), who jumped at the chance to fund his first film.

Reitman also directed the film - his first feature - with a sure hand that belies his youth. The son of populist director Ivan Reitman (who's newest, My Super Ex-girlfriend, comes out later this year), Jason has been immersed in film his whole life, and it shows. With the help of a talented crew, Reitman has made a film as crisp and good looking as its lead.

A warning though - Thank You For Smoking is not for the faint-hearted. The satire may be funny, but it is equally savage. But those who can stomach the bitterness of its medicine will be richly rewarded. And, hey, at least the film proves that there are a few Americans who understand irony, despite what their galoot of a President may say.

- Alistair Fairweather

The surgeon general warns that this is the sharpest and funniest satire to come out of America in a decade.

Pippa Smith 2006/09/01 12:24 PM
thank you for smoking A superb film- nothing sacrd and nothing safe.A wonderfully crafted film- i loved the commentary from the screen direct to the audience(for example the mortgage excuse being referred to as the Yuppie Nuremburg plea).The meeting of the MOD squad and the trachery of bosses and corporations all made me laugh aloud.
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