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Awesome: 31.68%
Worth A Look42.57%
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11 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Thank You for Smoking
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A smooth and mild satire, though perhaps a bit stale"
4 stars

“Thank You for Smoking” is a social satire that is less about the tobacco industry, as the title might suggest, and more about the spin industry that can cloud even the most seemingly clear-cut of issues with a litany of half-truths, meaningless statistics and other intellectual bric-a-brac. The problem is that for most people, especially those likely to see this particular film in the first place, the revelation of just how prevalent spin has become in today’s world is not exactly going to come as a shock when a programs like “The Daily Show” and countless internet sites do the same thing on a daily basis. However, while it doesn’t quite work as satire, the film does work as a big, broad and rambunctious comedy that takes no prisoners, is cheerfully willing to offend at times and features a gallery of perfectly-cast actors having a grand old time.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Nick Naylor, the chief lobbyist for the tobacco industry. When a study comes out about the health risks of smoking, he is the one who issues the press release questioning the findings. When a talk show panel on the dangers of smoking–one that already includes anti-smoking zealots and a cancerous kid–he is the one who is called to appear on behalf of the cigarette makers to express concern, offer “education” programs and suggest that people be allowed to make up their own minds about whether or not to smoke. He is also the guy who is called upon to think of ways to circumvent the various restrictions on advertising in order to make cigarettes as glamorous and cool as possible–by trying to get them placed prominently in Hollywood movies, for example. If he were the self-reflective type, he might feel qualms about what he does for a living, which is essentially to push death by the carton by bending, stretching, fold, spindling and mutilating the truth in exchange for a six-figure income. However, he is able to get over that by recognizing that a.) he isn’t actually telling anyone specifically to go out and smoke, b.) he is hardly the only person out there who spins the truth to make a living and c.) he is just plain good at what he does and that he gets a rush from succeeding at a job that most people would find impossible to undertake. (“If you want an easy job,” he points out, “go work for the Red Cross.”)

The film follows Nick around during a few memorable weeks at work. The venerable head of the tobacco firm (Robert Duvall) likes Nick’s idea of putting cigarettes back into movies in order to make smoking seem hip again and sends him out to Los Angeles in order to pull of a deal. Nick decides to bring his young son Joey (Cameron Bright) along in order to get to know him better. As they spend time together, Nick tries to reconcile being a good and responsible parent with the realities of what he does for a living and discovers just how hard such a thing is. (When Joey asks him, in the context of a school essay, why the U.S. government is the best, Nick’s immediate off-the-cuff answer is “Our endless appeals system”–true, perhaps, but not necessarily the kind of information a pre-teen can use.) No doubt shaken by such a discovery, Nick, when he returns home, agrees to be interviewed by a newspaper reporter (Katie Holmes) and finds himself so effectively worked over by her own forms of manipulation (you know what I mean) that he heedlessly spills the tricks of his trade for all to read. If that weren’t enough, a zealous senator (William H. Macy) wants him to appear on Capitol Hill for hearings that seem to be designed less to highlight the dangers of smoking and more to highlight the senator’s re-election campaign. Oh, there is also a group of anti-smoking zealots who publicly threaten Nick’s life during a TV appearance.

I haven’t read the original novel by Christopher Buckley but I have a suspicion that the satirical content was probably a little more biting, if only because it was dealing with a subject that was fresher back in 1994. In adapting it to the screen, writer-director Jason Reitman has approached the material in the manner of a better-than-average “Saturday Night Live” episode–there are a lot of funny scenes and some caustic and cutting lines of dialogue that suggest how a much darker take might have fared, but the laughs don’t really stick in the mind in the way that truly effective satire–something like “Dr. Strangelove” or even the recent “Lord of War”–does. From interviewing Reitman, I learn that he greatly expanded the role of Nick’s son in this adaptation and while this decision does lead to some nice scenes between the two (especially when Nick explains the key to effective debating”), it means that some other subplots–chiefly the ones involving the anti-smoking hit squad–are left dangling in the wind.

That said, “Thank You for Smoking” is still pretty entertaining because when it is funny, it is really funny. The interludes in which Nick dines with his confederates in the alcohol and firearms industries (Maria Bello and David Koechner) as they compare morbid statistics and take pride in who is more loathed are hilarious and could inspire an entire film on their own. Another great bit comes during Nick’s trip to Hollywood when he meets with an agent (Rob Lowe in a hysterically funny cameo) who is perfectly willing to arrange the placement of cigarettes into an upcoming blockbuster despite their utter unsuitability. There are plenty of other funny turns from the supporting cast as well–besides those I’ve already mentioned, J.K. Simmons is memorably gruff as Nick’s immediate superior and Sam Elliott injects a note of real feeling into the proceedings with a brief cameo as a former cigarette spokeman, now suffering from lung cancer, who responds to Nick’s bribe (to keep him from blabbing to the media) in a refreshingly direct manner.

The best thing about “Thank You for Smoking,” though, is the work from Aaron Eckhart. Ever since he first appeared on the scene as the monstrously compelling central character of Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men,” he has been carving out a name for himself as Hollywood’s go-to guy when someone is needed to play a character whose charm and friendly nature almost, but doesn’t quite, mask his sleazier impulses. His work here is so sly and funny that it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part and he even sells the smaller character details as well. Even when the film threatens to plunge into silliness, he always manages to bring things back under control with a performance that is pure, unfiltered genius.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12768&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/24/06 00:09:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/29/10 Simon Solid film,tho Reitman's direction/script too deliberate/cutesy at times, there's potential 4 stars
5/21/09 Jeff Wilder Not as biting as it could be. But works better as a satire than pap like American Dreamz, 4 stars
4/20/08 art AN EXCELLENT SATIRE 4 stars
10/18/07 Jake H laughed all the way through it 5 stars
10/03/07 The Film Maker You're welcome! 3 stars
7/14/07 Bitchflaps Not all that funny, and pretty lightweight stuff for the "biting satire" it was hyped to be 2 stars
6/30/07 LC3 A humorous look at the criminal language of control on all fronts. A must see! 5 stars
6/07/07 Black Smoke A quality satire about the stupidity of current society 4 stars
5/19/07 Vann Helms Embarrassing plot; no one ever smokes 1 stars
4/01/07 fools♫gold high-handed, high-hearted, and highbrowed 5 stars
1/30/07 Albert Stone Hillarious stuff, great satire. I loved it. 5 stars
12/02/06 Monday Morning One of the smartest satires I've ever seen. Hilarious, too. 5 stars
10/24/06 Drew G Aaron Eckharts best film yet 4 stars
10/14/06 Phil M. Aficionado Absolutely the right tone and look and mood; terrific and meaningful satire. 4 stars
10/06/06 jwil best satire in years; disregard the one star comments 5 stars
8/25/06 michael dont let the title scare you away 4 stars
8/25/06 helen bradley very slow slow paced poor scritping boring boring 1 stars
7/06/06 pym Very funny, wonerfully sarcastic, great message: freedom of personal choice. 5 stars
5/21/06 Denise Bauman I enjoyed it. 4 stars
5/10/06 Joel Hoffman Very funny and quick witted. Never a dull moment. I really enjoyed this movie. 4 stars
5/06/06 luke funny, smart. very good film. 5 stars
4/27/06 Jen Wilson Not bad... not sure I would see it again, though 3 stars
4/22/06 Mase Everything you can ask for, from a smart political movie with a topnotch cast. 5 stars
4/22/06 Ryan well cast, light but thoughtful humor 4 stars
4/21/06 Suzz As funny as lung cancer; boring; poorly written; does well by nutcase conservatives 1 stars
4/18/06 Annie G A fascinating look at lobbyists. Funny and thoughtful. 4 stars
4/16/06 Agent Sands Any movie that makes the bad guy look good to the point where it's funny; that's a movie!!! 5 stars
3/30/06 Marco Pole Tired witless banter... Why is it getting attention? Director is Son of Ivan Reitman.. 1 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson A great satire! 5 stars
3/12/06 Jack Absolutely amazing. Just saw a screening at the USCAF 5 stars
9/16/05 jim A must see! An excellent film. 5 stars
9/12/05 Alex Brisbourne Excellent script, engagingly constructed 4 stars
9/12/05 Trish Great Movie - saw at TO International Film Fest 4 stars
9/10/05 A Hayes Brilliant 5 stars
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  17-Mar-2006 (R)
  DVD: 03-Oct-2006



Directed by
  Jason Reitman

Written by
  Jason Reitman

  Aaron Eckhart
  Maria Bello
  Sam Elliott
  Katie Holmes
  William H. Macy
  Rob Lowe

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