Thank You For Smoking
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Thank You For Smoking

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Most products come with warnings, instructions on to remain safe during use. Some of these warnings are necessary such as not to leave a plastic bag near children. Others verge on the ridiculous; I have seen one warning people not to iron clothing while wearing it. Just about the only product that is dangerous and shown to be lethal when all directions for use are followed are tobacco products. For decades now there is overwhelming evidence that links smoking with numerous health risks. Since the tobacco industry is worth billions of dollars they hire the best spin doctors in town. It is the job of such people to tell the world that smoking is safe. ‘Thank You For Smoking’ is film that takes a satirical look at this practice with darkly humorous results.

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) works as the Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies. The primary focus of his job description is to tell the public about the various research projects concerned with the health effects of smoking. In all the studies he sites there is no evidence that smoking is in any way linked to health risks. There is little surprise to these findings since it is the large tobacco companies that pay for the research and as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Nick uses his rugged good looks and boyish charm to help convince people that the tobacco industry is actual their friend, it is a job he is extremely good at. On a weekly basis he dines with two other Washington lobbyists, Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) who works for the alcohol industry and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) who represents the interests of fire arm manufacturers. Together they refer to themselves as the MOD squad, that is to say Merchants of Death. Nick is divorced and his son Joey (Cameron Bright) is somewhat embarrassed by his father’s profession. One day when his father had to appear in school for career day Joey pleads with his dad not to ruin his childhood. Nick tries by winds up verbally attacking a little girl whose mother told her that smoking is bad.

All of Nick’s talents are needed when his boss, Budd "BR" Rohrabacher (J.K. Simmons) inform him that Washington is considering a bill that would require a skull and crossbones on every pack of cigarettes. BR decides that Nick has to help make smoking sexy again. He sends Nick to Hollywood to convince film makers to feature actors smoking. To this end Nick goes out west to meet with producer Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) in order to arrange some notable product placement featuring well known brands of cigarettes. During the trip Nick takes Joey along with him to spend more time together. They father and son do being to bond with Nick relating the finer points of spin control to his son. Just as life seems to be going well for Nick everything collapses on him.

It all starts when Nick returns to Washington to testify about the proposed cigarette warning. He comes up against Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy), a long time critic of the tobacco companies. When the two men square off on a talking heads show things heat up and a caller to the show threatens to kill Nick. BR refuses to provide protection for Nick which results in his being kidnapped. His captors cover his body with nicotine patches sending a huge dose into his body. Ironically his smoking habit helped to build a resistance to the substance and Nick lives. Adding insult to injury as a result of the overdose Nick can never smoke again. As if this isn’t enough to plague Nick he begins an affair with a beautiful, young reporter, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes). During their pillow talk he reveals far too much about the inner dealings of his business and even how he has taught his son about how he does his job. Although he thought all his comments where off the record they are soon part of an expose done by Heather. Everything is laid bare; bribery, his dealings with Hollywood, his dealings with the MOD squad and even his teaching his son his odious profession.

One of my personal favorite genres is the satirical dark comedy. This is the best I have seen since the 1995 flick, ‘The Last Supper’. This film is what satire is all about, making us laugh despite the fact that the topic is extremely serious, even deadly. In Dante’s ‘Devine Comedy’ the inner most circle of hell is reserved to traitors, those that have betrayed a trust. If Dante was around today he would have to add a more heinous circle for the spin doctor. By his own definition Nick is a death dealer. He laughs with others like him while dining on fine and expensive food, meals paid for by industries that make their money on products that can kill. They brag about the success of their campaigns not caring for the potential and real loss of human life. Nick actually seems to feel good about his ability to sway public opinion and sees teaching his son the tactics he uses as a bonding experience. The dialogue here is witty and fast paced. Through the film are little quips that cut right to the heart of the topic.

This is a great cast and a real showcase for their collective talents. Aaron Eckhart is just perfect as Nick. In a lampoon like this there is a danger of playing the main character as one dimensional. Instead Eckhart gives us a man that is just trying to do the job he is paid for and for which he is perfectly suited. His ultimate downfall is the age old sin of hubris, bragging to a reported about the tricks of his trade. He also is forced to see his life through the eyes of his son. Eckhart gives a great performance in helping the audience relate to a very unlikable person. J.K. Simmons is now coming into his own as an actor. He has amazing versatility as shown by his resume. He can play the harden con in HBO’s Oz with the same ease as the empathetic psychiatrist on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Here he is just short of over the top as Nick’s boss. As always William H. Macy demonstrates why he is in so many films lately, he is fantastic in any role he takes on. He plays the sad sack better than any actor out there.

20th Century Fox scores a hit with this release on DVD. The technical specifications are close to perfect. The 2.40:1 anamorphic video is crystal clear. The color balance is extremely well done with no over saturation and sharp contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers a great sound stage. The extras include deleted scenes with director’s commentary and a feature length cast and crew commentary. There is an interview with Charlie Rose featuring Jason Reitman, Aaron Eckhart, Christopher Buckley and David O. Sacks. Of course there is the mandatory making of featurette which is amusing. Another funny featurette is ‘American: Living the Spin’. This film will pull you in no matter what side of the smoking debate you reside. It is funny, insightful and just well done.

Posted 9/15/06

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