|Thank You For Smoking (2006)
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Cameron Bright, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons, Rob Lowe
Director: Jason Reitman
First-time director Jason Reitman’s “Thank You For Smoking” restores hope in the future of cinema. It delivers everything you could hope for in a film (a talented cast, a whip-smart script, and a small budget) without even blinking. Congratulations are certainly in store for the young director – who also penned the script – but it’s hardly unexpected. Reitman is the son of one of Hollywood’s most respected director/producers, Ivan Reitman, the man behind such comedy classics as “Animal House,” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” And while all of these were great films in their time, Jason’s debut feature has enough satirical bite to trump all three.
Based on the Christopher Buckley best-seller of the same name, “Thank You For Smoking” stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies whom the newspapers lovingly refer to with such clever nicknames as “Yuppie Mephistopheles” and “The Sultan of Spin.” Truth be told, Nick is good at what he does. Very good. So much so that his boss (J. K. Simmons) sends him to appear on daytime talk shows to battle anti-smoking groups, broker deals with Hollywood super-agents (Rob Lowe) to get mega-stars like Brad Pitt to light up on screen, and convince the Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) - who also happens to be dying of lung cancer - to accept a generous bribe. Once a week, Nick also has lunch with fellow lobbyists Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), a smooth-talking trifecta representing big tobacco, alcohol and firearms who refer to themselves as the MOD Squad (Merchants of Death) and bicker over which of their respective vices produce the most corpses annually.
All of this in a day’s work, and it doesn’t even include his ongoing political war with Vermont Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy) - who’s just launched an anti-smoking campaign that would place a skull-and-crossbones image on every pack of cigarettes – or his latest sexual conquest, a gorgeous newspaper reporter (Katie Holmes) who he’s decided to start banging against his better judgment. And when he has the time, Nick also tries to play father to his son Joey (Cameron Bright), who absolutely idolizes him, despite his questionable morals and initially unconvincing outlook on the art of debating: “If you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”
At first look, “Thank You For Smoking” appears to be a relatively straightforward satire on the tobacco business, but there are many more layers to the story, including a character study on how a man like Naylor can do what he does, as well as a lecture about how parents should raise their children. Eckhart is perfect for the role. He’s cocky, charming, and to many, a relative unknown. Along the way, the actor receives excellent support from the rest of the cast (especially Bello and Koechner as Naylor’s only two friends), while Lowe delivers a hilarious performance as the kind of egotistical super-agent that has made Jeremy Piven’s role on “Entourage” a godsend.
Curiously enough, for as much as the script lobbies to get cigarettes into Hollywood, there is absolutely no smoking throughout the entire film. The closest thing to any exposure to nicotine, in fact, is a disturbingly funny sequence that finds Eckhart the subject of a terrorist experiment involving an entire box of nicotine patches. This hidden dash of irony is one of the many reasons that Reitman (whose work I was first introduced to through the short film “Gulp”) will enjoy a long, successful career. My only regret is that the studio wasn’t able to secure a PG-13 rating for the film. It’s a real shame that teenagers won’t be able to see this flick until it hits DVD, especially since it has the potential to make a major impact on their future. Until then, smoke up kids, but know this: cigarettes could be potentially hazardous to your health.
20th Century Fox has really gone the extra mile in bringing this film to DVD. Along with all of the usual suspects (including audio commentaries, deleted scenes and a short making-of featurette), the single-disc release also includes the “Charlie Rose Show” episode with director Jason Reitman, actor Aaron Eckhart and author Christopher Buckley as the featured guests, as well as a quick look at the art of spin (“America: Living in Spin”). Rounding out the DVD are three production galleries (posters, art department and storyboards) and a theatrical trailer for the film, but the two commentary tracks (the first with director Reitman, and the second with Reitman and stars Eckhart and David Koechner) are the biggest highlights. Reitman delivers a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight on the first track (despite the large gaps of silence), while the second proves to be both educational and amusing.