Thank You for Smoking is an irreverent and humorous peek into the politics of smoking and the endless strategic recruitment of new smokers, as tobacco companies hang on to their right to mass commerce by a very thin thread. Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brockovich) takes his star turn as a lobbyist and lead spokesperson for Big Tobacco who has made an art form out of spinning the interests of tobacco companies to the media. He is the lone positive mouthpiece for cigarette smoking and the tobacco industry. The film starts out with some television appearances where Nick Naylor played by Aaron Eckhart attempts to put a good face on smoking cigarettes. He remains steadfast on a particular talk show, even in the face of a cancer stricken teenager who became terminally ill from smoking cigarettes. With his "flexible morals" intact, Nick railroads the sick boy and an anti-smoking politician on the panel and manages to manipulate the audience's sensibilities in his favor.
This character continues to put forth a smug and unapologetic appearance about what he does as he socializes with fellow lobbyists for alcohol and firearms, played by Maria Bello and David Koechner. Together they call themselves The M.O.D. Squad. M.O.D., being an acronym for Merchants of Death. When the responsibility to teach his son right from wrong presents itself, Naylor, a divorced dad, explains the concept of flexible morals and the gray area of the concept of morality, which his son only half heartedly buys. As the story moves forward we begin to see hairline cracks in Nick Naylor's facade as well as all of the bad karma he has accumulated throughout his financially lucrative and very high profile career.
Nick Naylor's main foil throughout the film is a Senator, played by William H. Macy, who is using a staunch anti-smoking stance as a platform for his re-election. He appears to get sabotaged at every turn by Aaron Eckhart's character, as the two butt heads throughout the story. Interestingly, the demeanor of these characters is played out somewhat ironically. Eckhart's character, the pro-smoking "bad guy" is likeable, yet the "good guy" in William H. Macy's anti-smoking character is not at all likeable. Some telling moments for Aaron Eckhart's character, Nick Naylor, come in the form of disapproval from his ex-wife as well as his son's teacher, as a result of his career choice. His becoming socially ostracized culminates in a death threat and eventual kidnapping, leaving him weakened and confused. The character develops a small conscience towards the end of the film, after being betrayed by a young reporter (played by Katie Homes) and coming face to face with a former cigarette spokesperson who is now dying of lung cancer. At the end of the movie we see that although he has reconciled some of his relationships and confronted his own amorality, he remains essentially the same character.
Though the plot and the characters are fairly surface and don't evolve much throughout the film, I found it to be a fun and campy sell for actually deterring teenagers and young adults from picking up the smoking habit. Thank you for Smoking is slick and entertaining enough to grab your attention, while driving home the painfully obvious point that smoking cigarettes is a dangerous and unproductive pastime. They do a good job of making smokers feel foolish for falling prey to the manipulation tactics of the tobacco companies who pull out every trick in the book to convince teenagers and young adults that smoking is cool.
Rob Lowe has an extended cameo as a stereotypical Hollywood Agent who has been tapped by Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) to implement a product placement campaign for cigarettes in feature films, by arranging for certain stars to smoke on screen. This is all part of a plan, born in a tobacco boardroom to bring back glamour and "the cool factor" to smoking. Robert Duvall appears in the movie as a wealthy tobacco baron called, "The Captain," who serves as a catalyst of Nick's nefarious representation of big tobacco.
Thank you for Smoking has a wonderful streak of laugh out loud moments, though I was not quite sure who we were all laughing at: big tobacco, the distorted perspective of a tobacco lobbyist, our society as a whole, or ourselves for having all fallen prey to media spin and manipulation at one time or another.
All in all, director and writer Jason Reitman delivers an entertaining look at something that is hardly a secret to most Americans: Smoking is bad for you. B+
Rated R, Runtime 92 min., theatrical release 3/17/06
in select cities