Thank You For Smoking Review
Thank You For Smoking is that rare beast, a satire which isn’t afraid to admit that cigarettes (and guns and alcohol) are big business doing all the evil things that big businesses do. Sadly, the point seems to have been missed by some ladies on the 139 ‘bus who burst into excited chatter on sighting a banner for the film, and clearly thought it was an ad for some sort of Festival of Tobacco.
Anyway… the film opens with Nick Naylor (Eckhart, grrr), spokesman for Big Tobacco, going on a PR offensive to defend the rights of smokers and the tobacco industry in today’s puritanical society. Spinning away the dangers of smoking on talk shows, enlisting Hollywood agents (Lowe) to promote smoking in the movies, Nick insists that its just a job. But his own ambivalence is highlighted in conversations with his son (Bright) and with his best friends, the self-appointed MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad, Polly Bailey (Bello), lobbyist for alcohol and Bobby Jay Bliss (Koechner) representing the arms industry.
Nick has his own problems: when not trying to find cancer victims to talk about the benefits of smoking on tv, he is fending off attacks from the wonderfully named Ortolan Finistirre (Macy), a senator from Vermont who wants to put poison labels on cigarette packets, an eager young reporter (Holmes) who is happy to do whatever it takes to get a story, and a possible assassin. Can Nick go on putting a positive spin on smoking and continue to look his son – and himself- in the eye?
Thank You For Smoking is hilariously and refreshingly un-PC and I loved it for this alone. The MOD Squad sit in one of those dimly lit bars that you only get in America, with dark wood and red and white check table cloths, eating fries out of little plastic baskets and arguing about whose industry is responsible for the most deaths. Nick, reasonably enough, points out on national television that it isn’t in the tobacco industry’s best interest to kill off its customers, negotiates product placement for cigarettes for a film that takes place in outer space, and ends up in bed with journalist Heather Holloway, who is just as ruthless as he is.
The cast is incredible, with A-listers stepping up to take a wide range of cameo and supporting roles. William H. Macy has one of the best lines as the obnoxious senator, ‘Vermont will not apologise for its cheese’, and is excellent as always, and there’s sterling work from Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Cameron Bright, J.K.Simmons, David Koechner and Sam Elliot as the Marlboro Man. But none of this would matter if Aaron Eckhart’s performance failed to convince. Nick Naylor is a pr man. He has to be ruthless but charming and charismatic, and believable in his scenes with his son. Eckhart succeeds on every level, playing a character capable of great kindness and unexpected sensitivity as well as a wholehearted commitment to his morally dubious job. He also sports the kind of proper leading man looks so rarely seen on celluloid these days.
The film looks wonderful, from the opening titles in the style of cigarette package design to its nicotine stained sepia tones. It also has a number of great visual gags – mocking Hollywood talent agencies with EGO, killer whales swimming on the plasma screens in reception.
If there is a gripe, it’s that the film has a bit of a soft centre – Nick must be redeemed! – where it could have been a bit more vicious. But it’s still smart and funny and entertaining and timely, and you will laugh a lot. Enjoy.
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