March 9, 2011

filmsgraded.com:
Thank You for Smoking (2005)
Grade: 84/100

Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, Robert Duvall

What it's about. A key month in the career of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the ace lobbyist for the cigarette industry. Nick is a busy man: he swaps war stories with fellow lobbyists Maria Bello and David Koechner; he is interviewed and shagged by reporter Katie Holmes; he plots with his boss (J.K. Simmons) and uber-boss (Robert Duvall) to plug cigarettes in the movies via Hollywood producer Rob Lowe; he shares partial custody of adorable and impressionable pre-teenaged Cameron Bright; he pays off an aging Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) not to tell the world he is dying of cancer; he appears on the Dennis Miller and Joan Lunden shows to defend cigarettes; he testifies on behalf of cigarettes in Congress, to the chagrin of anti-smoking senator William H. Macy; and he is kidnapped and nearly murdered by deranged anti-smoking zealots.

All this in just 92 minutes and within a budget of just 6.5M.

How others will see it. This satire won a flurry of awards on the indie circuit, although it was ignored by the Oscars, who instead bestowed Best Picture on a mediocre film, Crash. Thank You for Smoking made money at the box office, and was the first feature for the obviously talented writer/director Jason Reitman, whose career trajectory continues to ascend following Juno and Up in the Air.

At imdb.com, the user ratings are very high, although they decline slightly with advancing age. Some may be wary of the film's mixed message: smoking is addictive and deadly, but we should be allowed to smoke anyway, if that's what we want to do.

How I felt about it. The film's message is indeed confusing. We are supposed to like, and cheer for, Nick Naylor. At film's end, even his ex-wife is on his side. But Nick himself turns away from the tobacco lobby: it is now too evil even for him, especially with his easily influenced son by his side.

So, the winner is Nick, and the loser is smoking. Nick's spin throughout most of the movie is that smoking should be a choice. Then, he chooses against it, even though the money is on the other side.

The imdb.com message board doesn't seem to get it. Or, more likely, they (the posters) don't want to. Despite its title, Thank You for Smoking is not pro-tobacco. It's not pro-choice, either. It's not even about the continual triumph of marketing and advertising over common sense. It's not about anything at all, except a man who makes a living doing what he does best, talking and persuading.

Nick knows that what separates him from others isn't his gift of gab. It's his amorality. This makes him the same as reporter Holmes, who also falls upon the excuse of paying the mortgage to justify her own behavior. Both get fired, but for different reasons. The pretense of journalistic integrity pushes Holmes out the door. Bad spin ends the career of Nick Naylor.

What will become of Joey, Nick's vulnerable-aged son? As the film ends, he wins a debate trophy. Will he become the Devil's advocate, as well? And should we be as proud of this as Nick clearly is? Corporations will always be in need of a good spin artist. But I prefer those who favor the public good over private greed, even when, as in the case of William H. Macy here, they sometimes go too far.