Thank You for Smoking

Thank You for Smoking movie poster
Thank You for Smoking [Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2005]

Nick Naylor (as portrayed by Aaron Eckhart) is at the top of his game, he is the best at what he does. This would not pose a problem if Nick was a lawyer, a businessman or a doctor, but Nick is the spokesman and lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco studies, Big Tobacco. He is more-or-less just fine with his job. He is doing what he is good at and he is just paying the mortgage. In his own words, “Michael Jordan plays ball. Charlie Manson kills people. I talk.”

Nick Naylor dines with the MOD (Merchants Of Death) Squad, the spokespersons for the alcohol, tobacco and firearms lobby. He argues not to prove that he is right, but to prove that you are wrong and therefore he is right. “If you argue right, you are right.” He raises a son and mentors him in the same debate tactics. Nick just does what he is good at, which just happens to be lobbying for tobacco.

The MOD Squad in Thank You for Smoking
The MOD Squad, Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) and Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) in Thank You for Smoking

Nick is not exactly shown in a positive light, yet neither is he shown in a negative light. Instead the light of dis-ambiguity is placed upon him, the same light that he shines on tobacco. His job requires a bit of moral flexibility. You do not wish him harm, but you do not wish him success.

This movie is obviously satire and holds few, if any, punches. It does not just take on Big Tobacco and their methods of addiction, but also those anti-tobacco. William H. Macy plays Senator Ortolain K. Finistirre of the great state of Vermont. Senator Finistirre is the McCarthy of tobacco, using his crusade for pure political gain. Katie Holmes (sans Tom Cruise) is Heather Holloway, who like Nick, is really good at what she does. She also poses a lesson in always making sure that what you think is off-the-record is truly off-the-record. Rob Lowe as Jeff Megall basically reprises his role of Benjamin Kane in Wayne’s World, perhaps with less sleaze and a few more quirks, “Jeff just loves... Asian Shit.” Sam Elliot of course is the cowboy, in this case the Marlboro Man, a bit disgruntled after a diagnosis of cancer. This is not to even mention a truly ironic form of kidnapping and “torture” allowing Nick to honestly claim that smoking saved his life.

Nick Naylor with “Cancer Boy” in Thank You for Smoking
Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) with “Cancer Boy” (Eric Haberman) in Thank You for Smoking

For being a satire on the smoking industry, it is surprising that I do not believe that they showed a single character engaged in the act of smoking at any point. Nick grabs for a pack of cigarettes at one point, yet never lights up. Smokers are constantly shown, yet they are never actually smoking. Is this an ironic message of some point?
I recommend this movie for anyone wanting an easy 92 minutes of entertainment that allows for some thought. The movie is not overly preachy, which could have been a mortal flaw on a movie taking on smoking, and will doubtfully alter your opinion of smoking. Rather than serving as a public service announcement, the film seeks irony and hypocrisy on all sides, a recipe for success in this case.

Thank You for Smoking was directed by Jason Reitman, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Christopher Buckley. I give the movie a rating of 8.1 out of 10, for not preaching, clever dialog, subtle acting and sweet satire.