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Here is a satire both savage and elegant, a dagger instead of a shotgun. "Thank You for Smoking" targets the pro-smoking lobby with a dark appreciation of human nature. It stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. Nick is a pleasant, good-looking career lobbyist who is divorced, loves his son Joey (Cameron Bright) and speaks to the kid's class on career day. "Please don't ruin my childhood," Joey pleads, but his dad cross-examines a little girl whose mother says cigarettes can kill you: "Is your mother a doctor?" Once a week he dines with the MOD Squad, whose other members are alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and firearms lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner). They argue over which of their products kills the most people. The initials MOD stand for "Merchants of Death."
The movie was directed by Jason Reitman, who warmed up by making short subjects. What's remarkable in his first feature is his control of tone; instead of careening from one target to the next, he brings a certain detached logic to his method. Reitman grew up around movies; his father is Ivan Reitman. But Jason has his own style, sneaky and subtle. Instead of populating his movie with people smoking and coughing and wheezing, he shows not a single person smoking, although the ancient Captain (Robert Duvall), czar of the tobacco industry, holds a cigar like a threat. Reitman's screenplay is based on a novel by Christopher Buckley (son of William F.), and retains a literary flavor rare in a time when many movies are aimed at people who move their lips when they think.
Should the movie be angrier? I lost both of my parents to cigarettes, but I doubt that more anger would improve it. Everyone knows cigarettes can kill you, but they remain on sale and raise billions of dollars in taxes. The target of the movie is not so much tobacco as lobbying in general, which along with advertising and spin-control makes a great many evils palatable to the population. How can you tell when something is not good for you? Because of the efforts made to convince you it is harmless or beneficial. Consider the incredible, edible egg. "Drink responsibly." Prescription drug prices being doubled "to fund research for better health."
What I admired above all in "Thank You for Smoking" was its style. I enjoyed the satire; I laughed a lot because it's a very funny movie, but laughs are common and satire, as we all know, is what closes on "Saturday Night Live." Style is something modern movies can't always find the time for. I am thinking for some reason of "The Thin Man" (1934), a movie that works in large part because of the way William Powell and Myrna Loy hold themselves, move, and speak; their attitude creates a space between the vulgarities of the plot and the elegance of their personalities, and in that space the humor resides. Their lives are their works of art. Nick Naylor is like them, not egotistical or conceited so much as an objective observer of his own excellence. It is the purpose of the movie to humble him, but he never grovels, and even in a particularly nasty situation is still depending on his ability to spin anything to his advantage.— Roger Ebert
Wed September 27, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium
United Kingdom, United States of America; 2005; in English; 92 min, 35mm
Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Director: Jason Reitman, Novel: Christopher Buckley, Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott