Warning: writer/ director Jason Reitman’s political satire “Thank You for Smoking” is highly addictive and may cause uncontrollable laughter. The movie stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, a smooth-talking lobbyist for the tobacco industry, or as he puts it, “the face of cigarettes, the Colonel Sanders of nicotine.”
Nick Naylor, the best spin doctor in the business, is on top of the world. He’s got a hot girlfriend, his son worships his every move, and he has job security in the fact that big tobacco isn’t going out of business anytime soon. The cigarette companies have been getting some bad publicity lately and Naylor has been working overtime to put a positive face on it all.
He’s debating anti-smoking senators on TV talk shows, flying out to California to pitch pro-smoking movie ideas, giving exclusive tell-all interviews, and even selling his own story as the victim of some anti-smoking kidnappers. When Naylor gets called to testify at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., anything could happen and his relationships with his family, friends, and bosses all hang in the balance.
“Smoking,” like the film’s anti-hero, is smart, funny, charming, and utterly soulless, and I mean that in the best way. Jason Reitman, whose past work includes “Juno” and more recently the Oscar-nominated “Up in the Air,” has a tendency to be attracted to projects that are slightly offbeat and instead of filling them with wacky and zany characters whose sole purpose is to provide comedic relief, he gives them a heart which makes them feel grounded and incredibly genuine. Nick Naylor is one of Reitman’s most complex creations.
We first meet Naylor while he’s on an “Oprah” type talk show defending tobacco while sitting next to a teenage cancer victim we only know as “Cancer Boy.” Next, we see him sitting down to a weekly lunch with his friends alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and gun lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (“Anchorman’s” David Koechner) where they compete to see who has the highest death count.
You hate this man, you despise him; then, somewhere along the line this smarmy bastard, portrayed brilliantly by Aaron Eckhart, becomes the one you are sympathizing with, the one you find yourself rooting for. By the end, the anti-smoking senator (William H. Macy) from Vermont, with its high-cholesterol cheeses, becomes the enemy. The all-star cast is rounded out by J.K. Simmons, Cameron Bright, Robert Duvall, Katie Homes, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, and Rob Lowe.
“Thank You for Smoking” is not a pro-smoking movie, and it’s not an anti-smoking movie either. It’s a satirical look at the media, government, and all the propaganda that is distributed by all parties. In the end, it’s about discovering your talent and finding out what makes you happiest in life.