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DVD Pick: Thank You for Smoking

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Thank You for Smoking DVD Cover Art

Thank You for Smoking DVD Cover Art

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Hilarious Movie About Spin

I laughed often while watching Thank You for Smoking (2005), and thinking about it still makes me chuckle. The protagonist is a tobacco lobbyist who is both disgusting and sympathetic, while the villain is a U.S. senator trying to protect kids! The film takes a satirical look at cigarette-related issues as it explores the interaction of the tobacco industry, the government, the media and the public. In terms of politics, the screenwriter/director of the movie calls it a "libertarian film."

Screenwriter/Director, Novelist, Well-Known Actors

Thank You for Smoking is the feature film debut of screenwriter/director Jason Reitman, son of Hollywood producer and director Ivan Reitman, who is best known for directing Ghostbusters (1984). The screenplay is an adaptation of the 1994 novel of the same name that was written by Christopher Buckley, son of author and journalist William F. Buckley, Jr.

The movie's central character is played by Aaron Eckhart, and he is in nearly every scene. But Eckhart is supported by a strong cast that includes Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Maria Bello and Katie Holmes. There's also a winning performance by child actor Cameron Bright.

The Tobacco Lobbyist and His Son

The protagonist of Thank You for Smoking is Nick Naylor (Eckhart), a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who says, "I earn a living fronting an organization that kills 1,200 human beings a day." Nick has the gift of persuasively arguing for a favorable interpretation of words and events that might prove damaging. As he puts it, "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk. Everyone has a talent." While others revile Nick as a mass murderer, bloodsucker and pimp, he sees himself as "a mediator between two sects of society that are trying to reach an accommodation." When pressed, he sometimes falls back on the "yuppie Nuremberg defense": "Everyone's got a mortgage to pay."

The movie is at times too glib for its own good, but it manages to gain some emotional punch from the relationship between Nick and his 12-year-old son Joey (Cameron Bright). Nick tells Joey that not everyone is suited to be a lobbyist because the job requires "a moral flexibility that goes beyond most people." Also, Nick instructs his son that the beauty of argument is that "if you argue correctly, you're never wrong."

Merchants of Death, the Marlboro Man, the EGO Talent Agency

Nick has lunch once a week with a liquor lobbyist and a firearms lobbyist, and the three of them refer to themselves collectively as the MOD Squad, where MOD is an acronym for merchants of death. Notice that when the MOD Squad members go to a congressional hearing, the gun lobbyist sets off an alarm when he walks through a metal detector.

A serious sequence in the movie is where Nick visits Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott), the original Marlboro Man, who is dying of cancer. Nick's delicate assignment is to convince the proud Lutch that his least bad alternative is to accept a bundle of money in return for not denouncing tobacco.

The funniest sequence is where Nick goes to Entertainment Global Offices (EGO), a talent agency that may be lampooning Creative Artists Agency. There Nick talks to Hollywood super agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe), who strongly identifies with samurai—check out the comical shot of him wearing a red-and-gold kimono. Nick wants more big stars with cigarettes in their hands in movies, but Jeff says that usually the only characters who can smoke are RAVs—Russians, Arabs and villains.

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