William H Macy
Thank You For Smoking is the first film that I can remember that has chosen to satirise the tobacco industry. Written and directed by the son of Ghostbusters creator Ivan Reitman, it bases itself around the hardest job humanly possible – a spin doctor for cigarettes.
That’s the job of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the ‘Academy of Tobacco Studies’, a research hub funded by large tobacco companies. He aims to disprove the common ‘misconception’ that cigarettes are responsible for millions of deaths a year. His amoral choice of occupation conflicts with his need to be a good father to his son Joey (Cameron Bright). It’s also a job which infuriates many, including a frustrated senator (William H Macy), who intends to lobby for all packets of cigarettes to contain a skull and cross bones with the word poison in bold lettering.
Plot-wise, Thank You For Smoking is hard to sum up. It contains an impressive cast who all play their parts well in an entertaining, if overly episodic fashion. There’s the bit when Nick goes to Hollywood and the film has much fun satirising the stupidity of the place. There’s the bit when Nick tries to pay off the original Marlboro Man who now has cancer and is dying. There’s the bit when Nick has to impress the feisty journalist from the Washington Probe. You get the drift.
All of these episodes are fun enough while they last but they don’t really tie together well enough. Nick is such a smooth talker, and so able to get himself out of any situation that faces him, that you never really feel much is at stake. As Nick, Aaron Eckhart finally finds a role which he can truly fit into. It’s reminiscent of his earlier pre-Hollywood work in the pitch black comedy In The Company of Men and he excels here. The ensemble cast (which also includes Katie Holmes, Robert Duvall, Maria Bello and Rob Lowe) are also impressive.
There are some wonderfully funny dark moments, although its targets are rather unclear. As daring as a satire about the tobacco industry may seem, the film doesn’t bother to take many real potshots and instead relies on a more absurd satirical style. The darkness does subside for a rather pat finale, but it remains strong enough throughout.
Thank You For Smoking is one of the more entertaining comedies of late, but it doesn’t hold together well enough to be one of the best. There’s a rambling voiceover which comes and goes and at times it’s over-stylised, especially in the opening credits, but to its credit at least it has some style. That’s more than can be said for most recent comedies. Good unclean fun.