Wide screen DVD

Paperback

Full screen DVD

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“America is living in spin.”

In addition to seemingly ubiquitous spin, the trend known as “political correctness” also occupies center stage in this black comedy. This film, based on a novel with the same name, follows the life of a Washington DC lobbyist who represents tobacco interests. It makes many comments on the state of politics in America. Most of the film's themes seem fairly "libertarian" for a movie made in 2005. However, when one considers the independent filmmakers involved in this project: director and screenwriter: Jason Reitman (who previously made very clever comedy shorts) and producer: David O. Sacks (founder of PayPal); along with the novel's author: Christopher Buckley, perhaps the themes may fit expectations.

Watching Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), an advocate for "Big Tobacco" often opposing nanny state “defenders of the people,” provides an interesting slice of life: from TV appearances, through congressional testimony, to facing men with guns. However, through it all, another thing consistently appears as one of Nick's top concerns: his relationship with his son Joey (Cameron Bright). Nick's former wife Jill (Kim Dickens) provides a viewpoint quite skeptical of Nick, but as Joey discovers more about his father and grows from the experience, even her attitude softens.

However, the film does not start with Nick's family concerns. It starts with his TV appearance in a panel of guests on a talk show hosted by Joan Lunden (who plays herself). Those panel guests include a cancer sufferer, representatives of Mothers Against Teen Smoking and The Lung Association, a top aide from Health and Human Services, and lastly “our hero” Nick Naylor -- Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies (ATS). One might think that such a panel with a live audience decidedly unsympathetic to smoking would daunt someone in Nick's position. However, Nick does not easily daunt.

Although Joan Lunden's studio audience may not fully appreciate Nick's “word smithing,” as a later discussion with Joey hints, the intended targets of Nick's persuasive talent shown on the talk show, likely lie in viewer land. Interrupting the flow of the initial scene, the movie digresses slightly for Nick to narrate a small “sidebar” providing some background on ATS and his position there. As he says, he talks (spins) for a living and he excels at his job. When the movie returns to the Joan Lunden panel, Nick takes the initiative and turns his seemingly hopeless situation there to his advantage. How? As I said, he excels at his work.

Next the film introduces Nick's boss: BR (excellently portrayed by J.K Simmons, in a part quite similar to his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man films). BR expresses some displeasure at Nick's panel promise of ten times the original amount planned for a teen anti-smoking campaign.

Nick then visits his son's school for a career day. Although a career as a lobbyist may not be obviously desirable in comparison to doctors, pilots or firemen, Nick makes the case to the elementary class for them to think independently and “challenge authority.” The teacher seems quite eager to terminate his short talk.

Next the film introduces Nick's friends, also lobbyists. Together with Nick they represent the concerns of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) works for the Moderation Council and lobbies to keep alcoholic beverages legal for adults. Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner, very funny in this role) works for S.A.F.E.T.Y (Society for the Advancement of Firearms and Effective Training of Youth). Nick, Polly and Bobby Jay refer to themselves as the MOD (Merchants Of Death) squad and meet at a bar which serves food to enjoy each others company, share advice and offer mutual emotional support.

The scene shifts to show Joey spending a weekend with his father. Joey has school homework, part of which involves answering an essay question: “Why is American government the best government in the world?” This provides a good opening for Nick to share some wisdom about words and their power with his son. After Nick returns Joey to his Mom, he travels back to ATS headquarters for a meeting during which BR shows his staff a C-Span segment on legislation sponsored by Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy, superb as a nannying politician) to place a skull and crossbones on every package of cigarettes. BR encourages ATS staff to come up with strategies to bolster their business. Nick suggests placing more cigarettes in movies and gives a strong talk backing his point. After the ATS staff meeting adjourns BR sends Nick for a conference with the founder of and main “sugar daddy” behind ATS: “the Captain” (Robert Duvall).

The Captain gives the go-ahead for Nick to pursue the movie strategy and the anti-teen smoking campaign, though he hopes the last effort mentioned doesn't persuade too well. On Nick's return to ATS HQ, BR sets up a meeting in California with Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) a Hollywood “facilitator” for Nick to further flesh out his movie strategy. Nick wants to take Joey along to California, but his mother opposes the idea.

After a dinner with the MOD Squad discussing an upcoming newspaper interview, Nick meets reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) who plans a profile on him. That's enough to introduce all the major characters, though not all the “big name actors” in this outstandingly well done “indy” film.

This movie shows a considerable amount of appreciation for individual freedom in addition to its obvious contrarian point of view. At a mere 92 minutes, it sometimes seems like the film could have been longer. On the other hand, it never drags. More scenes were filmed and the DVD carries them as well as excellent commentary from the director on why he cut them. In addition to deleted scenes, the DVD also has a couple of other extras well worth watching (or hearing). I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I credit superb direction, great writing from both Reitman and Buckley, excellent casting and outstanding performances, as well as great ideas providing the background. I give Thank You For Smoking my highest recommendation. Don't miss it.

Related DVD

Related DVD

Soundtrack