Director: Jason Reitmann
Release Date: 14 April 2006
Running Time: 92 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Editorís Rating: 4 out of 4 stars. This movie is smokiní. (Please stop throwing things, I know it was a bad joke. Itís the internet. The only thing youíre breaking is your monitor.)
Alec Baldwin is one of the most remembered actors from a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross. In it, he plays a cold and unforgiving real estate salesman, tasked with motivating a lackluster sales team out of a slump. Heís fast, sharp-talking, and abusive: a drill sergeant for ReMax. This mentality brings us right to the heart of Thank You For Smoking. You sell. You disregard everything else.
Thankfully, the film wasnít written by David Mamet or fronted by Alec Baldwin. Instead, we get Aaron Eckhart playing Nick Naylor, the Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a scientific research institute funded by big tobacco with the sole purpose of spinning public opinion in favor of cigarettes. And Nick Naylor is the guy who goes on TV and spouts all their findings. The thing is Ė he loves his job. Like Baldwinís character, Naylor is the consummate salesman. Except where Baldwinís character is a drill sergeant, Naylor shows us what Baldwin does that makes him so successful Ė he wins arguments. Whether itís a kid with cancer or a United States Senator with a grudge, Naylor always tells his audience something they can all agree with, no matter what the truth may be. And thatís only part of what makes this film so funny.
The rest of the cast features the ubiquitous and awesome J.K. Simmons as Naylorís boss, B.R., a no-nonsense leader of men whose job is similar to Baldwinís role, but for an entire company. Heís got a serious case of barracks-mouth, and thatís always one of the things that Simmons can pull off with ease. Itís a pleasure to hear him yell profanities at the top of his lungs, it really is.
Robert Duvall is his boss, known only as The Captain, a man with deep old-money looks and the weariness of a man who has upheld an industry for a lifetime, yet feels he has nothing to show for it.
Katie Holmes is a bit of a femme-fatale with Eckhartís character in the movie, pulling off a very sexy performance. David Koechner and Maria Bello play great supporting roles as Naylorís only friends - they too are the talking heads of their own respective lobbying groups, Koechner of guns, Bello of alcohol.
This movie embraces the innate absurdity of the lobbying system wholeheartedly and sticks them on a skewer. From frank talk about the suffering of children with cancer being anathema to big tobaccoís agendaóĒItís in our best interests to keep him alive and smoking!Ēóto the sheer nonchalance topics like fetal alcohol syndrome and giving guns to minors are handled with, itís a searing take on our nationís dirtiest practices.
Yet, to balance all the flippant disregard to human life, the film gives us several moments of profound human interaction and practicality. Naylor truly loves his son, Joey, played by Cameron Bright, and for all the spin and twist he can put on the truth, Nick can't do that to his kid. Joey, who is written like an adult with a height deficiency rather than a kid who only spends the weekends with his father, goes from being genuinely annoyed with his father to understanding and respecting what his father does, even if it might be a little clumsily handled by the script. Also important to note is the very human scene between Nick and The Marlboro Man, played by Sam Elliott. It's a showdown between morality and pragmatism, and it's handled very well.
The most unique feature this movie accentuates is the idea that the characters in it are not evil or good. Nick Naylor isnít the Anti-Christ, he isnít Josef Stalin, heís just a guy doing his job. Yeah, itís not a popular one and heíll be the first one to tell you that, but even the people who oppose him act just like he does. You know, the people who are supposed to be the heroes? They donít care if itís good for the well-being of the world or not, they just want to get re-elected. Just listen to the way William H. Macy, who plays Naylor's main antagonist Senator Ortolan Finnistre (is that an anagram? What's with that spelling?) talks about picking out a "cancer kid" to parade around on national TV. Itís a great sign of a satire when you end up liking no one but connecting with them all at some level. And thatís what this film does. Donít bring the kids, but sit down and watch this. Youíll be glad you did.
**This movie is part of my personal collection, and I was not compensated for this review in any way.**