THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriters: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley
Executive Producers: Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Max Levchin, Mark Woolway, Edward R. Pressman, John Schmidt
Producer: David O. Sacks
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy
U.S.A., 2005, 120 min.
*The last time he was at Sundance, we jokingly told Jason Reitman, "After three short films, you can only return with a feature." Ask, and you shall receive. Thank You For Smoking is not only hilarious, but it also demonstrates a confident filmmaking maturity that should skyrocket a long career. Thank You For Smoking is nearly perfect in three ways:
First - premise. Nick Naylor, fast-thinking master of media manipulation, is tapped to turn the tide of animosity away from the tobacco industry. Nick can talk his way in or out of anything, but this time he pulls out the big gun - Hollywood.
Second - pace. Reitman's script is crisp and tight. Every joke and sight gag lands a punch. This hard-hitting satire takes us right to the edge but never over. Setups take place in real-world situations just close enough to the truth to scare us into laughter.
Third - casting. The whole ensemble, led by Aaron Eckhart with his smug good looks, could not be better. Maria Bello's liquor lobbyist and David Koechner's gun advocate complete the mod squad of merchants-of-death who meet each week to brag about the spin they have unleashed.
Film number four is a charm for Reitman, who achieves the near impossible: making us think and laugh at the same time.
*Summary by John Cooper, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Well, this was an excellent political comedy, the perfect counterpart to some of the more dire and serious films that I had viewed over the five days. It didn't try to overstep its bounds and become preachy or overtly moralizing. The film is a comedy about fast talking and responsibility, wrapped in as funny and marketable a package as anyone could want. It started out with a playful banter established through the use of humorous freeze-frames and a sarcastic voice-over that set the mood for everything to follow. Despite the fact that the film is largely about a tobacco lobbyist defending the rights of the tobacco industry, about as unpopular a position as can exist in the world today, you never hate the character Aaron Eckhart brings to the screen. It is a very thin line to walk, making the protagonist likeable, but the director makes it look easy.
The actors, all well-established character actors, go to town with the pompous and insidious dialogue, especially William H. Macy as Senator Finistirre of Vermont. He has such a ball being a prideful windbag; I wish Macy had the opportunity to play an articulate baddie more often. See, I call him a 'baddie' in this film even though his only real fault is to try and bring down big tobacco. Through the use of comedy, the director makes the main character, Nick Naylor (great name by the way), look like the good guy. So even though it seems like it might be a pro-smoking film, I thin it is interesting to note that there is no smoking whatsoever in the film. Ivan Reitman answered some Q & A after the screening and he really made it clear that he wanted to straddle the line here and instead make a fun film that also made a point about the power of choice and responsibility. Reitman came across as a very intelligent and funny guy, clearly accepting his father's legacy, but at the same time, still in awe of the great talent he had working around him in the film. He had a couple fun anecdotes about how he worked with Robert Duvall on the film, basically letting the actor direct himself.
I was not too fond of the Katie Holmes character. I see that she is a means to an end in order to bring Nick to his knees, but the audience can see right through her schemes, and its hard to believe that Nick wouldn't see through her plotting as well. Also, her nude scenes do come out of the middle of nowhere. I just felt that her whole plotline was moved in to give Nick a character arc. However, even though Nick gets a character arc, I appreciate the fact that his development as a human being doesn't betray the character that he is built up to be throughout the first half of the film.
I'm thankful that they did not redeem Nick by the end of the film. Though he was really put on the spot in the final discussion of the film, regarding whether he would allow his own son to smoke when he turned 18, Nick didn't back down from the question, but answered that it would be his own son's responsibility to choose. He then continues to do what he is best at, being a fast-talking lobbyist for the most hated companies in the business world. I haven't seen a film with Aaron Eckhart in the cast where he hasn't brought everything he can to the role he plays. His Nick Naylor is a sympathetic character in part due to the excellent screenwriting, but also to the amount of energy and charm he brings to the role. It's a pleasure to watch him in this film, especially during the times he perfectly turns a seemingly un-winnable argument into an endorsement of the product or company he is lobbying. This film is great light and breezy fun.