Thank You for Smoking (2006)
(Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright)
(Disclaimer: If it makes any difference, I’m a smoker. But I’m also a movie-lover, and a relatively logical, yet humorous person. And I’m reviewing the movie from that standpoint, not from one side of the fence or the other.)
One of the interesting things about seeing a movie in a New York City theater is that the audience — if they like the movie — will applaud it when it ends. This isn’t something I’ve seen very often in the South. But “Thank You for Smoking” came out when I was in NYC, and so I saw it there. It did receive the applause at the end, and I joined in.
For the Christians reading this, you should know it received an “Offensive” rating from ChristianAnswers.net, which gives each reviewed film a “Moral Rating” — understandably, since that’s part of why they review movies. I’ll assume, without checking, that Focus on the Family gave it similar marks.
Most other reviewers liked it:
“… well-acted and stylishly looking social satire is fast-moving and entertaining enough to overcome its weaknesses” (Emanuel Levy)
“… stellar supporting cast …” (TV Guide’s Movie Guide)
“… almost too accurately mirrors reality instead of distorting it. It cuts not just to the funny bone, but deeper, to the heart of America.” (Contra Costa Times)
“The screenplay crackles with intelligence and insight, not just about the workings of Washington, but also about friends, parenting, work, tough choices, paying the mortgage, and, of course freedom and personal responsibility.” (Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies)
“The film works, sometimes brilliantly, at seriously exposing the flaws and hypocrisy within American government and business.” (TheMovieBoy.com)
“A hilarious and intelligent comedy …” (Steve Rhodes)
One thing the Christian site didn’t like was the “heavy” sex/nudity content, which I should clarify: I don’t recall any nudity in the movie. There was a sex scene, between leading actor Aaron Eckhart and actress Katie Holmes. It was the only part of the movie that seemed awkwardly acted and poorly filmed, but it wasn’t “gratuitous” sex; it was part of the story. Holmes plays reporter Heather Holloway, who uses her (dubious) sex appeal to lure inside information out of Eckhart’s character, Nick Naylor. But anyway…
Naylor is an apologist for “Big Tobacco,” using his smooth speaking style and friendly face to cast a rose-colored light on the nicotine industry, which as we all know kills many thousands of humans each year. In fact, the U.S. gun lobby and alcohol-producing corporations should have sponsored this movie. Several times, the facts presented in the film made smoking look so bad that gun rights activists were made to look like Santa Claus by comparison. And they should.
The factsshow that tobacco kills many more Americans each year (440,000) than either guns (31,000) or car wrecks (38,000). In fact, more people die of tobacco-related causes each day than were killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Only major wars kill more people per year than tobacco.
However, just like war, tobacco is a business, and profit is the driving force. Anything people will pay for, someone will sell. As America’s temperament turns slowly but inexorably against tobacco, people like Nick Naylor are hired to argue in its favor.
The film features William H. Macy as a do-good U.S. Congressman who wants legislation passed that will require a “skull and crossbones” poison warning on each pack of cigarettes (the movie didn’t mention chewing tobacco). Naylor is the man Big Tobacco uses to lead the public fight against such a warning label.
But the film isn’t about whether cigarettes are good or bad for you. It’s about how things get done in Washington, D.C., and about the average citizen’s perception of “good and evil” on the public stage. It’s about how a skilled debater can argue for any cause, and why the best arguer can win, even if he’s wrong.
That’s one thing the Christian reviewers didn’t like so much about the movie, that argument can be just for the sake of argument. Because in the Christian viewpoint, debate is purely right-or-wrong, moral-or-immoral, and good versus evil. Understandably so. But in the world of politics, that’s not how it works. Usually, both sides are half-wrong and half-right, so the side with the most highly-skilled public relations people (and the most money) will eventually win.
But the movie was funny, and even the reviewers who didn’t like the film’s supposed “message” admitted that. Plain old political conservatives will love some of the jokes about bleeding-heart liberals dished out by Naylor and the other two members of the “MOD Squad” — Merchants Of Death, who together work to peddle tobacco, alcohol and guns. One of the funniest parts of the movie was Naylor’s visit to Hollywood, where he tries to push his idea of having two big-time actors portray smoking in a positive light in an upcoming blockbuster. Rob Lowe is decidedly hilarious as the super-agent who can make it happen, and his assistant Jack (Adam Brody) keeps the laughs coming as Naylor is introduced to Lowe’s character.
Both sides of the political spectrum get ribbed in this flick, which doesn’t seem to hold anything sacred.
Naylor is the kind of person who’s good at what he does, and very little else seems important to him, though the audience will see that he occasionally has a minor moral quandary. Usually he overcomes his inner voice quickly, and does his job, like when he’s given the daunting task of visiting the cancer-eaten former Marlboro Man — played ably by Sam Elliott — and paying him for his silence on the matter.
If you go into the theater with the idea that it’s a film with a message, you’ll end up disappointed and confused. Probably the only message is that our government is unnecessarily complicated, or that there are very real people on all sides of these issues. A tiny, minor submessage of the film is that you should be careful when picking the people to whom you tell your secrets — because they could betray you, like Holloway does to Naylor.
But if you realize ahead of time that it will just be really funny, and slightly offensive in places, you’ll have a blast. It requires a sense of humor, which I realize is lacking in many people these days. I also know that some people have a difficult time divorcing their feelings/beliefs from their enjoyment capability, when it comes to certain issues. Yes, there are those who can’t laugh at an abortion joke, because the issue is “just too serious.” Of course it is, and so is smoking. So if you’re afraid that having a laugh at the expense of both sides will deteriorate your precious beliefs, maybe you should leave this one alone. But if you’re the type of person who can laugh at anything, while still keeping your belief system intact, then go for it.
I don’t really have a rating system for my reviews, so I’ll just call this one “Really Funny.”