“Thank You For Smoking” is the first great movie of 2006. Some would say that a movie that follows a tobacco lobbyist who is trying to get more smoking back in to cinema would be in poor taste. I beg to differ. If done correctly, it can be a sharp witted satire and a heck of a dark comedy. At these things it triumphs.
Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the pro smoking community who follows the philosophy that if you have a good enough argument, you are never wrong. We meet him on the “Joan Lunden” show where he is sitting next to a 15 year old boy named Robin. He is a cancer victim who quite smoking. Nick argues that it is in tobacco’s best interest to keep this boy alive and smoking. “The anti-smoking people want Robin to die”.
Naylor works hard at his job, is divorced, and loves his son very much. He tries desperately to justify his job to his son, and defend it to his ex-wife and her new husband. These relationships form the heart of the movie as Naylor takes his son to Hollywood as he bargains with a Hollywood super agent to get some lead actors to smoke more cigarettes.
Rob Lowe plays Jeff Megall, the super agent, who comes up with the idea of smoking on a space craft in an epic sci-fi picture. “Wouldn’t the explode in an all oxygen environment?” asks Nick. Lowe replies with a quick fix. “Thank god we invented the thingy!”
The rest of the movie is populated by some very interesting supporting characters who are all supplied with dialogue from a screenplay that is bursting with flavour. Consider Sam Elliot as a former Marlboro Man, now dying of cancer and a very outspoken advocate of smoking. Nick brings him a briefcase full of money. “This is not a bribe” says Nick, “It is a gift”. Elliot is perfect at going from hard bitten and bitter to gleaming at the sign of money.
Once a week Nick gets together with the MOD squad, which stands for Merchants Of Death. They are fellow lobbyists for alcohol and fire arms. Maria Bello and David Koechner respectively. If you know both these actors, you should instinctively know which one represents which. They cheerfully argue over whose products kills the most people.
The director is Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, who as you know directed “Ghostbusters” and “Evolution”. His son seems geared towards more character and dialogue driven comedy, as opposed to slapstick and special effects. Neither theme of movie is better than the other, but lately it is nice to get a comedy with some style. Reitman seems poised to do some serious damage in the realm of films.