'Thank You for Smoking' is a breath of fresh air
By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
The razor-sharp satire “Thank You for Smoking” is the wittiest dark comedy of the year thus far. It has appeal to all sides of the political spectrum.
Based on Christopher Buckley's winning novel about the wily world of lobbyists, the film stars Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, who represents the tobacco industry. The handsome but morally questionable Naylor is prodigiously skilled in the art of rhetoric and persuasion.
So capable a spin doctor is he that he rattles a smooth-tongued Vermont senator, played with verve by William H. Macy. The Democratic senator wants to add a picture of a skull and crossbones as an additional warning on cigarette packs. Eckhart's Naylor manages to turn the tables on the politician and expose his hypocrisies. While on a television show with a host of no-smoking advocates and a boy stricken with cancer, Naylor spins things in such a way that it appears that an anti-smoking crusader wants the boy dead.
Thank You for Smoking is even-handed in its skewering, taking aim squarely at our culture of political correctness and obsessive spin control. The scathing sarcasm and fast-paced dialogue, written by director Jason Reitman, is so clever that the movie warrants a second viewing for the zippy one-liners as well as the details. Tonally, it is reminiscent of Alexander Payne's Election.
Lobbyist Naylor travels to Hollywood in his quest to make smoking sexy again. There, he meets his Left Coast match in the kimono-wearing Rob Lowe as the quintessential slick agent more concerned with feng shui than facts. The scenes with Lowe and Eckhart are priceless, and Lowe's assistant (Adam Brody) is also hilarious.
Eckhart gives a standout, whip-smart performance, keeping his character likable even in his cynicism. That appeal comes across in his efforts to educate his young son (Cameron Bright) in the ways of the real world. Naylor meets regularly with a pair of similarly merciless cohorts who call themselves the MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad. Maria Bello represents alcohol manufacturers, and David Koechner is the chief firearms lobbyist.
Katie Holmes capably plays a conniving reporter who may be as unscrupulous as Naylor. Robert Duvall is excellent, as always, as a tobacco chieftain nicknamed “The Captain,” who mentors Naylor.
The movie loses steam when Naylor is hospitalized, but it quickly picks up again as he faces off against the nation's politicians at a congressional hearing.
“Thank You for Smoking” is that quirky and intelligent rarity that elicits wry smiles and hearty laughs alike.