“Thank You For Smoking” is an excellent satire that has managed to enter a realm that not many movies have – Big Tobacco and pro-smoking lobbyists – and made it funny as hell.
Instead of showing these lobbyists in stuffy courtrooms with frowns on their faces, we get a pleasant Nick Naylor. Played by the clean-cut Aaron Eckhart, also known as the “Sultan of Spin,” who can persuade anyone to smoke cigarettes…even an ex-smoking lung cancer patient.
We are first introduced to Naylor on the Joan Lunden show. The topic was smoking and the guests included a Pulmonologist, an anti-smoking lobbyist and a teenage lung cancer patient. At first, I was nervous during the scene.
As the row of guests are introduced, the audience offers a boisterous applause, but when the Academy of Tobacco Studies representative Nick Naylor is introduced, the audience turns into a sea of head shaking and booing. Instead of breaking down and offering an apologetic speech about how tobacco kills millions, Nick merely states “anti-smoking organizations want to kill people for more funding, whereas I’m losing a customer.”
While throwing out words like “inconclusive health risks” and “$15-million-prevention plans,” the audience reacted positively. At the end of the scene, the only people shaking their heads in dismay were the other guests.
Naylor works at the Big Tobacco funded Academy of Tobacco Studies, where inconclusive Tobacco studies are conducted and if one were to ask a scientist there, “Are cigarettes good for you?” the answer would most likely be yes.
One his downtime, Nick spends time with his son Joey (Cameron Bright) and dines once a week with his friends. Nick and his buddies make up a group called the MOD Squad…essentially the ATF’s worst nightmare.
Naylor is joined by a pro-alcohol lobbyist named Polly (Maria Bello) and a firearms lobbyist, Jay (David Koechner). The MOD squad, also known as the Merchants of Death squad, argues topics such as the sinister advertising they create and whose product kills the most people.
The plot of the film is simple; we follow Nick around to see what his job is like. We are even joined by his son, who wants to see what daddy does for a living. Over the course of the film, the bond between Joey and Nick is increased. Nick’s character is two-sided; he is a loving father off-the-clock, and one of the most hated men in the country while working.
Nicks main opponent (ironic because the most of the world hates him) is a Vermont senator and environmentalist, Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macey) who attempts to do everything in his power to slap a skull and crossbones label on every cigarette pack. Ortolan wants to replace the government warning because “only people that speak English will survive,” he says.
His character is so fixated on Big Tobacco that he never looked at himself and what state he represents. Vermont is a state of cheese and maple syrup. These two things clog more arteries, stop more hearts and add more pounds than cigarettes ever have. “Why don’t you slap a skull and crossbones label on Vermont cheese; obesity kills more people than tobacco,” Naylor said in retaliation.
The thing I enjoyed most about this film was the logical and intelligent style that is was presented in. Director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman) doesn’t show scenes of smoke-filled rooms and in fact, there is only one person who is seen smoking in the film, the Tsar of Big Tobacco (played by Robert Duvall).
The film, based on the Christopher Buckley novel, presents a justified aspect of smoking, You wouldn’t slap a death sticker on a Boeing 747, why would you on cigarettes; if I want to smoke, why should you tell me otherwise, you look down on my smoking, yet you stuff your face at McDonalds…etc
This film had me laughing out loud. The characters were hilarious, each bringing their own traits that all clashed perfectly. What this film did differently, compared to other satires, was make me laugh at something intelligent. It wasn’t a goofy or stupid, it was smartly directed and acted. I never though I would be saying this about a pro-smoking film, but Reitman found a way to make it work…and succeeded.