Thank You For Smoking
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We shouldn’t like Nick Naylor, but we do, in spite of our better judgment. Like Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in which Satan is made the protagonist of the story, Nick Naylor is a man we should all despise, but don’t. Why? Because while his actions and employ may be reprehensible, Nick, we imagine, is one hell of a cool guy. And boy can he talk. Respect and awe go a long way in covering a multitude of sins. And as the mouthpiece for Big Tobacco, Nick is drowning in his sins.
Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, the star of In the Company of Men, who here plays a character with the same cut-throat sensibilities but not the same monstrosity) has what he describes as a certain “moral flexibility” that allows him to not only abide but also excel as a lobbyist and spokesperson for one of the most maligned conglomerations on the planet. In fact, he revels in it and the fact that he is among “the few people on this planet who know what it is to be truly despised.” It’s not that he particularly loves the tobacco industry, he just loves the malay that is defending the indefensible.
And he is very good at what he does. An expert at playing ethically-challenged men, the square-jawed, eye-glinting Eckhart expertly manipulated a land-mine infested role by infusing the amoral Nick with an engaging and likable personality. While his actions horrify, his enthusiasm disarms utterly. He peddles death and dares us not to love him for it.
Nick’s face and spin is everywhere. He appears on talk shows where he embraces children with cancer and proclaims that “It's in our best interests to keep Robin alive and smoking.” At his son’s career day, he politely savages a young girl who says her mother told her smoking is bad by asking her, “Is your mommy a doctor? No? Well then she’s not really a credible expert is she?” Every week Nick has dinner with the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad--the representatives of alcohol (Monica Bello) and firearms (David Koeachner)--where they argue over which of their products kills the most people.
An industry under ever-increasing attack, Nick is tasked with repairing cigarettes blighted image. Ever-savvy, Nick turns to Hollywood. In contemporary movies, he says, only villains and Europeans smoke. His mission: make smoking cool again. With the help of super-agent Rob Lowe and his perpetually cheerful assistant (The O.C.’s Adam Brody, who steals every scene he’s in), Nick conspires to make a sci-fi epic filled with sex and smoke. His California mission also includes delivering a briefcase full of bribe money to the former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliot), now dying of cancer. (Fascinatingly, in a movie about smoking, not a single person is shown doing it).
Nick’s life becomes complicated when health extremists kidnap and try to kill him, he is subpoenaed by Vermont senator, Ortolan Finistirre (the incomparable William H. Macy) to speak on Capitol Hill about the dangers posed by cigarettes, and a sexy reporter (Katie Holmes) seduces him and then burns him in the press. As if all this is not trying enough, Nick is both delighted and horrified that his adoring son (Cameron Bright) is beginning to behave just like him.
Thank You For Smoking is based on the novel by Christopher (son of William F.) Buckley and is directed by Jason (son of Ivan, Ghostbusters) Reitman in his feature debut. The film is an elegant satire, sneaky and subtle, the sort which are not often made anymore. Though I personally wish it had had brave enough to push harder and risk more, it is, nonetheless, a stylish and darkly-comic look at human nature, addiction and our ability to buy what is fed us, even when we know it to be rotten to the core.
To read the full review, click here.