Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, Thank You for Smoking is the story of a tobacco spokesman who tries to help sell cigarettes while trying to be a good father to his 12-year old son. Written for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman, the film explores the world of the tobacco industry and its tactics in the form of a black comedy. Starring Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, Katie Holmes, Maria Bello, Rob Lowe, Adam Brody, David Koechner, William H. Macy, Sam Elliot, J.K. Simmons, and Robert Duvall. Thank You for Smoking is a witty feature-film debut from Jason Reitman.
Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is a tobacco lobbyist whose job is to speak for tobacco companies as they’re often under target for giving its customers lung cancers and other diseases. Naylor manages to win people over by talking about the good that tobacco does as he’s the darling of the tobacco company while his best friends are also lobbyists in firearms spokesman Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) and alcohol spokeswoman Polly Bailey (Maria Bello). Naylor’s success at a talk show against anti-tobacco groups has gained the attention of the legendary tobacco company head the Captain (Robert Duvall) over Naylor’s idea to spend $50 million for an anti-teen smoking campaign that would give teenagers the choice to smoke.
While Nick is also a good father to his son Joey (Cameron Bright) whom he takes to on a trip to California to meet with film producer Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe). Nick would also meet Washington news reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) for a profile on him as the two have an affair. During Nick’s trip with Joey in California, the Captain asks Nick to do a job for him in which he is to give money for former Marlboro Man figure Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliot) where Joey watches putting Nick in an uncomfortable position. Nick’s career is suddenly shaken by a kidnapping attempt on him that left him unable to smoke again while Heather’s article does more damage to his reputation. With Nick’s boss BR (J.K. Simmons) doing damage control and Nick in trouble, he gets some surprising help as he faces off against the anti-tobacco campaign leader Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy) in front of Congress.
The film is about a lobbyist who tries to be a good role model to his own son while selling tobacco to the public. While he knows that he’s selling a product that is harmful but he doesn’t apologize for it nor force people to go buy it. He’s part of a group of people whom he’s comfortable with and often talks his way into getting people to sway his way for the good of the people he’s working for. Yet, he would face things that would put him in an uncomfortable position as he has to bribe a former tobacco spokesman to stop from talking while he’s also being seduced by a reporter with ambitions of her own.
Jason Reitman creates a script that is essentially a character study of a lobbyist’s life and the product he’s supporting as he has people trying to stop tobacco. It’s also a classic rise and fall tale of sorts though it’s third act would have Nick Naylor finding a way to redeem himself. While the characters that Nick meets are essentially characters that represent some form of caricature in a film that is partially a satire. Yet, the whole film is told through Naylor’s perspective as he narrates what he does and the tribulations he faces as he’s just trying to do what he thinks is right. While there’s parts of the script that doesn’t work such as Naylor’s son Joey and a kidnapping subplot. Reitman does create a solid and engaging story.
Reitman’s direction is quite fluid in the way he presents the film with lots of style such as a montage of Naylor and his son arriving to Los Angeles shot in super 8 film stock. Other scenes such as Naylor’s monologue about what he does and how he believes he’s contributing to society where Reitman has Naylor hitting a home run. Reitman creates lots of intimate scenes with compositions where he always have more than one person in a frame or is shooting from afar. Yet, he also knows who to aim for during such big scenes while shooting from a certain perspective. Overall, Reitman creates a film that is very intriguing as well as entertaining.
Cinematographer James Whitaker does a superb job with the film‘s sepia-laden cinematography to complement a stylish look from the restaurant that Nick eats at to the Californian exteriors to emphasize the world Nick hoped to conquer. Editor Dana E. Glauberman does a nice job with the editing in creating Nick and Joey’s California montage to a few jump-cut and stylish cuts in scenes where Nick talks about the people he works and hangs out with.
Production designer Steve Sakland and set decorator Kurt Meisenbach do some fine work with the set pieces created such as Jeff Megall‘s Asian-inspired office and Nick‘s own apartment. Costume designer Danny Glicker does a very good job with the costumes created such as the suits that the men wear to the business-like wardrobe the women wear. Sound editors Perry Robertson and Scott Sanders do fantastic work with the sound work to capture the atmosphere of the Congressional hearing to the intimate scenes of the restaurant that Nick eats at.
The film’s score by Rolfe Kent is wonderful as it features playful jazz and blues-style music to complement its sense of humor along with more intense orchestral pieces for its dramatic moments. Music supervisors Peter Afterman and Margaret Yen do some terrific work with the soundtrack that features a wide array of music from blues, country, and pop to play the whimsical tone of the film.
The casting by Mindy Marin is brilliant for the ensemble cast that is created which includes notable appearances from Adam Brody as Jeff’s hyperactive assistant, Kim Dickens as Nick’s ex-wife Jill, Daniel Travis as Jill’s boyfriend, Connie Ray as Lorne’s wife, talk show host Joan Lunden as herself, Todd Luiso as an anti-tobacco protester, Marianne Muellerleile as Joey’s teacher, and Rob Lowe as the very funny and eccentric Hollywood producer Jeff Megall. Robert Duvall is excellent as the wise tobacco legend the Captain while Sam Elliot is wonderful as the bitter Lorne Lutch. J.K. Simmons is superb as Nick’s devious boss BR who tries to use Nick for his own gain while making himself look good for the tobacco company. William M. Macy is terrific as Nick’s nemesis in Senator Finistirre who tries to outwit Nick in a war of words in his quest to ban tobacco.
David Koechner and Maria Bello are very good in small but funny roles as Nick’s lobbyists friends with Koechner as the more wilder person of the two with Bello as the reasonable one. The weak links in the cast are Cameron Bright and Katie Holmes as Bright doesn’t really display much of a personality to his character despite some of the good one-liners he has in the role of Nick’s son. Holmes meanwhile, is really miscast as ambitious reporter since she doesn’t really exude the sexiness nor the humor that is needed for this character. Finally, there’s Aaron Eckhart in a fabulous performance as the charming Nick Naylor. Eckhart has a wit and personality that is fun to watch while also bringing a serious side to his character as it’s definitely one of best roles of his career.
Thank You for Smoking is a funny yet smart film from Jason Reitman that features a phenomenal performance from Aaron Eckhart. While it’s a film that is a bit flawed due to a few casting choices as well as ideas that doesn’t work, it is still a pretty engaging film about the tobacco industry and those who try to oppose it in the wrong way. In the end, Thank You for Smoking is an insightful and humorous film from Jason Reitman.
Jason Reitman Films: Juno - Up in the Air - Young Adult - Labor Day - (Men, Women, & Children) - Tully - The Front Runner - (Ghostbusters: Afterlife) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman
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