Smoking is not hazardous to your health

by Beacon Staff • March 22, 2006

Based upon the sharp humor of Chris Buckley's book, which holds the movie's namesake, the story tells the tale of no-holds-barred Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart (Suspect Zero), chief spokesman for the fictional Academy of Tobacco Studies and the cigarette companies' guard dog against anti-smokers.,In a time where non-smokers dictate where smokers can and cannot enjoy a cigarette and tobacco companies are being sued for health hazards, Thank You for Smoking boldly speaks up with logic and reason.

Based upon the sharp humor of Chris Buckley's book, which holds the movie's namesake, the story tells the tale of no-holds-barred Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart (Suspect Zero), chief spokesman for the fictional Academy of Tobacco Studies and the cigarette companies' guard dog against anti-smokers.

As a divorced public relations advisor, Nick lives a comfortable lifestyle in his posh Washington, D.C. apartment, catering to his fast-paced career, followed closely by weekend visits from his son, Joey, played by Cameron Bright (Godsend).

The audience is quick to realize that this silver-tongued serpent of big tobacco is less about making people smoke than he is about just "paying the mortgage."

But not all is well with Mr. Naylor.

Because of his job, Naylor has gathered more than his share of enemies. Defending a product that kills, as the movie states, more than 1,200 people per day, Nick has been branded by the public as the Modern Mephistopheles, after the soul-snatching demon from the legend of Faustus.

Despite Naylor's penchant for collecting death threats, audiences will be hard pressed not to root for him in his quest to be victorious in every debate and dominate anyone who dares stand in the path of his verbal attacks.

"That's the beauty of argument," Naylor says. "Because if you argue correctly, you are never wrong."

His words, although gaining laughter through the audience, could not be truer.

Thank You for Smoking delivers on many levels, with its narrative voice-overs and hilarious storytelling commentary.

The conflict begins when Naylor takes his son on a business trip to California, exposing the true nature of his job where he "filters the truth" and attempts to get celebrities smoking cigarettes in movies once again.

In a powerful scene with long- time smoker Lorne Lutch, the "first Marlboro Man," played by Sam Elliott (Tombstone), Naylor offers a large sum of money to keep Lutch quiet about the hazards of smoking.

After delivering the money in front of his son, Nick begins to think twice about his involvement with tobacco companies. Despite the lessons of free thinking, Nick cannot help but realize the effect his job is having on his impressionable son.

What makes this movie so enjoyable is its uncommon plot progression.

Rather than creating a predictable ending, director Jason Reitman, who visited Boston for a recent screening, said he did not want to compromise the story in order to have the movie picked up by a studio.

He said Thank You for Smoking has bummed around the stages of pre-development for half a decade.

"I didn't want it to be another one of those movies," Reitman said. "I could have made it five years ago if I had changed the ending."

Reitman also addressed the rumors that co-star Katie Holmes had originally planned to film a topless scene, which turned out to be a "projector error" while the movie was screening at Sundance last month.

With Reitman's sights set high, he provides a cast with a movie dossier a mile long. Performers such as Dennis Miller, David Koechner, J.K. Simmons and Robert Duvall create an off-kilter comedy, reminiscent of bygone days when movies used to be more than language and violence.

More sincere forms of cinema have gone underground to the independent scene, where production companies like FOX Searchlight (which happened to pick up Thank You for Smoking) bring exceptional movies to the masses, in the same way that Focus produced the artistically and financially successful Brokeback Mountain.

Thank You for Smoking is less about the heated debate between smokers and non-smokers and more about independent thinking and the right everyone has to make their own decisions.

Unconcerned about preachy messages, the moral of the story is about being able to make a correct, informed choice. If someone wants to smoke cigarettes, it is their own prerogative.

However, this message is deeply embedded underneath layers of sardonic one liners and bitingly humorous dialogue between Eckhart and anti-tobacco Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre, played by William H. Macy (Fargo).

This could be marketed as a sarcastic, witty public safety message about peer pressure.

So before you decide to pick up a pack of Camel Lights, make sure that you've made up your own mind about lighting up.