Thank You For Smoking
October 10, 2006
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Cameron Bright, J.K. Simmons, Kim Dickens, David Koechner,
As more and more cities, states and countries ban smoking in public places (Philadelphia has been one of the latest) and the government tries to make us more conscious of our health, the more pressure is on the tobacco companies to find other, creative ways of getting people hooked on their product. Michael Mann’s film The Insider (1999) was a hard-hitting drama about a whistle-blower who publicly revealed that cigarettes are addictive. Thank You For Smoking (2006) opts for a different approach by instead satirizing the tobacco industry.
Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is a slick spokesman for the tobacco industry, the self-proclaimed “Colonel Sanders of nicotine.” He knows exactly how to play on people’s sympathies by telling them exactly what they want to hear. For example, he tells a day time talk show audience that he wants a boy dying of lung cancer to live so that he’ll buy more cigarettes arguing that the tobacco companies don’t want their customers to die because that means a loss of revenue. Nick talks for a living. He’s good at it. He also has a 12-year old son (Bright) who naturally looks up to his charismatic father.
At work, Nick faces a dilemma. His clients are losing a key demographic: teens who smoke. How do they get teenagers to see smoking as cool and sexy? His solution: get big name movie stars to smoke on-screen in movies and begins setting up a deal with Hollywood producer Jeff Megall (Lowe) at the insistence of his boss BR (Simmons).
Aaron Eckhart does a fine job in this showy role as a smooth-talking spokesman. In a way, it’s a satirical spin on his soulless office drone from In the Company of Men (1997). With his rugged, matinee idol good looks, he is loaded with charisma and more than capable of handling this dialogue-heavy role. Eckhart is smart enough not to play Nick as a simple caricature and his relationship with his son humanizes him to a certain degree. The scenes between the two are well done. They give Nick an additional layer as we are exposed to his personal life. His son shows a genuine interest in what he does and this makes Nick question what he does for a living for the first time in his life. So does meeting the original Marlboro Man (Elliott) now dying of cancer. The former spokesperson and icon relies on an oxygen tank and a slew of prescription drugs to prolong his inevitable death.
This is a fine feature film debut for Jason Reitman as he confidently balances the issue of smoking and the character study of a lobbyist. The movie is certainly well-written and directed. He shows a lot of promise and it should be interesting to see what he does next. Ultimately, Thank You For Smoking doesn’t say anything about cigarettes that we don’t already know: they’re addictive and bad for you, but it is one of those “important causes” kinds of movies that attracts a big name cast. That being said, the movie does shed light on the millions of dollars spent by tobacco companies to get young people to start smoking. Once they’re hooked, then chances are they’ll be customers for life. For a biting satire, the film is surprisingly restrained and therein lies the challenge: go too far and you risk going over the top and look too ridiculous; don’t go far enough and you get accused of being too soft on your subject matter. It’s a fine line to tread and for the most part Thank You For Smoking is successful at this. In the end, the film raises a lot of interesting questions, including whose responsibility it is to educate our children on the dangers of smoking because if they don’t learn early on then, as this film amply demonstrates, the tobacco companies certainly step in with their persuasive propaganda.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Jason Reitman. He mentions that it took five years to get the film financed and he finally found it from the owner of PayPal of all places. He speaks very eloquently about how certain scenes came together and the challenge of achieving certain shots. Reitman also touches upon the things that he changed from the book that it was based on and why. There are frequent lulls in this otherwise solid track.
Also included is an additional commentary by Reitman and actors Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner. The track starts off a little too self-congratulatory as everyone praises each other. There is also some overlap from the previous commentary. Fortunately, Koechner keeps things light and asks Reitman questions about the film to keep things going. Eckhart doesn’t speak too much, offering occasional anecdotes about filming.
There are 13 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Reitman. These scenes were cut because they didn’t maintain the overall tone of the movie. They also took up too much time or ruined the rhythm of the movie. Included is an alternate ending that was out of character for Nick’s son and rightly cut. Some scenes are a little too over the top in terms of tone or simply repeated points already made elsewhere in the movie.
“The Charlie Rose Show” features Reitman, author Christopher Buckley, producer David O. Sacks and actor Aaron Eckhart talking with Rose about the book and the movie. Reitman explains what he loved about the book with Sacks talking about what he liked about Reitman’s screenplay that motivated him to give it his seal of approval. Eckhart speaks about what drew him to the character of Nick Naylor.
“Unfiltered Comedy: The Making of Thank You For Smoking” is a promotional featurette that basically advertises the movie with soundbites from cast and crew. There is a definite air of self-congratulation common with these kinds of featurettes.
“America: Living in Spin.” Reitman claims that his film is about how our culture is about spin a.k.a. damage control. The notion of spinning the truth is prevalent in our society. Where is the truth? This is fascinating albeit brief look at political correctness and doublespeak.
There are also individual galleries for poster art, the art department and storyboard with the poster designs being particularly interesting.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.