Film Review ***..: Putting the Kool Back in Cigarettes
...Smoking... Might Just Make You Laugh Your Lungs Out
By Yong-Yi Zhu
Thank You for Smoking
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Jason Reitman
Based on the book by Christopher Buckley
Starring Aaron Eckhart
Those who hate the tobacco industry will hate Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the spokesman for giant conglomerate Big Tobacco. He defends the cigarette industry for making a living — an undeniably good one, too. Just imagine the most evil lawyer you can, multiply that a hundredfold, and you will have Naylor, the Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies.
Naylor never questions his actions — all he cares about is helping the tobacco industry. Why should he cave in to the health advocates when he could just as easily make them seem like the enemy? Why should he denounce cigarettes when he can just as easily include them in a major motion picture to make them seem even cooler?
The problem is that the job requires a bit of “moral flexibility,” something his son might also adopt — how can Naylor continue his lifestyle when he knows full well that his own child worships him and wants to follow in his footsteps?
The film is absolutely brilliant in making everything wrong seem right, everything disturbing seem funny, and everything pointless seem meaningful. Not until the end of the film did I realize that there was no plot. Instead, it’s just one laugh-out-loud scene after another, not so much a film as a series of vignettes in the life of Naylor.
As Naylor, Eckhart is the perfect tobacco spokesman; he appears morally unsound and sports a sly smile throughout the entire film. His monologues — attempts to win every argument in the world — are beautifully crafted, yet still amazingly natural. In fact, if I were Big Tobacco, I would want him heading up my public relations. Naylor even makes the job look cool — after seeing the movie, I couldn’t help but temporarily think how fun life as the spokesman for Big Tobacco might be.
Every actor manages to match Eckhart’s performance. There’s the M.O.D. (merchants of death) squad, including Maria Bello as the spokesman for the alcohol industry and David Koechner as the spokesman for the firearms industry. They appear sympathetic even though they get together on a regular basis to compare death tolls.
Budd “BR” Rohrabacher, played by J.K. Simmons, fully embodies the backstabbing, condescending, self-centered conniving boss trying to get ahead at the expense of the underlings.
In brief appearances, Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe), a marketing agent for Hollywood celebrities, highlights just how quirky L.A. natives can be. Lowe’s scenes, though small, utterly humiliate Hollywood agents by depicting how much they are willing to tolerate for success. Then There’s Jack (Adam Brody), Jeff’s pathetic, fawning assistant who goes so far he manages to lose his own personality. It’s not a coincidence that he doesn’t even have a last name.
The list of talented performances is endless. The trick to the movie was getting all of the actors on the same page, and that is what makes the film direction is so brilliant. From the amazingly creative opening credits to the last words, every part is selected with such care that the resulting creation is a contemporary work of art. The film uses every trick possible — from voiceovers to subtitles to stopping the film for an explanation — but it all fits naturally.