Thank You For Smoking review by Mike Long

Nepotism in the workplace is something that I definitely frown upon. I feel that having a relative assist someone in getting a job, or even worse, hire them directly is just a recipe for trouble. (Just look at how it effects our government.) Unfortunately, this view can automatically taint opinions if you come across people with the same last name working in the same industry -- even in Hollywood. Seeing that the son of famed director Ivan Reitman had made his first film, my immediate thought was, "Dad got him the job." Having now seen Thank You For Smoking, I feel that certain that Jason Reitman probably secured the gig on his own.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking, which is set in the recent past . Nick works as a lobbyist for "Big Tobacco" as a vice president of the "Academy of Tobacco Studies". Put simply, it's Nick's job to convince the public that there is no concrete evidence that smoking is bad for your health. Nick goes on talk shows and speaks before groups spreading his message. As the film opens, "Big Tobacco" is facing a fall in sales and asks the "Academy" to come up with a new way to promote smoking. Nick suggests having more smoking appear in Hollywood films. He heads for Los Angeles, taking his 12-year old son, Joey (Cameron Bright), with him. Joey looks up to his father, but is confused about his Dad's job. By traveling together, Joey learns the art of argument and debate. Meanwhile, Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy) is pursuing a bill to place "poison" labels on cigarettes and Nick must prepare for this battle.

The above synopsis doesn't begin to describe Thank You For Smoking, as the movie isn't really about a story. The movie is about Nick Naylor and his journey through life. This is a man who has a job that most consider reprehensible. Yet, it's his job and he tries to do that best that he can at it. Nick understands that he is hated, but he takes this in stride. That's not to say that he doesn't have morals, or that he's in denial about the dangers of smoking, but Nick is proud of the fact that he's good at talking and he revels in his job. But, Nick isn't a monster. He is very concerned for his son and longs to improve their relationship. He feels that by spending more time with Joey that they can bond. And Nick is proud to share his best skill -- bullshitting -- with Joey.

And thus, we have the tone of the film. The movie knows that it's dealing with a touchy subject, but again, smoking isn't the point of the film. The point of the film is Nick's life -- he just happens to have a controversial job. Thank You For Smoking never shoves any agenda at the viewer, it simply presents Nick and his story. (And note that no one ever smokes in the movie.)

Thank You For Smoking does walk a fine-line when it comes to it's overall feel. The movie straddles many genres. It should certainly be considered a dark, tongue-in-cheek comedy, but the film is never outrageous or silly. There are no pratfalls or nudges in the ribs as the movie presents in-jokes. The film does give us very clever and often stinging dialogue that, like humor in life, is both funny and true. The movie is rarely laugh-out-loud funny (despite what some critics have said), but it's certainly humorous. But, there are dramatic moments as well. Nick's relationship with Joey is never played with melodrama, but it's touching nonetheless.

Even if Thank You For Smoking weren't an intriguing and entertaining film, it would be worth seeing for the cast alone. It goes without saying that Aaron Eckhart carries this film and makes it what it is. He is completely believable as this driven man who deals with many demons to do his job. The movie is also full of small roles by famous actors, which is why only a few names were mentioned in the synopsis. Maria Bello and David Koechner plays Nick's only real friends, as they are also reps for controversial industries (alcohol and guns). J.K. Simmons plays Nick's boss, while Robert Duvall is th mogul over "Big Tobacco". Katie Holmes appears as a reporter doing a story on Nick. Rob Lowe has an hilarious cameo as a Hollywood insider, and The O.C.'s Adam Brody steals the show as Lowe's subservient assistant. But, the talent who must be applauded here is writer/director Jason Reitman. He has adapted Christopher Buckley's novel and made it his own. The dialogue in the film is very funny, and the pacing never drags. The movie also has a great look -- note that anytime Nick is at the "Academy", things are very brown. These little touches show that Reitman is someone to watch.

As with many independent comedies, Thank You For Smoking isn't for everyone. The humor comes from the clever dialogue and one must certainly be in on the joke -- that smoking isn't the central theme of the movie -- in order to enjoy the movie. I didn't find Thank You For Smoking to be the groundbreaking satire that others have, but it's certainly a fun movie that will impress viewers who enjoy comedy with an edge.

Thank You For Smoking lights up DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate versions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version has been screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer here looks pretty good. The only noticeable problem is that the colors look slightly washed out at times. Otherwise, things look OK. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. Other than those washed-out scenes, the colors look fine. Artifacting is kept to a minimum, but there was some slight video noise at times. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie has a nice sound design and the front channels and surround channels come into play during the crowd scenes and when certain graphics appear on-screen.

The Thank You For Smoking DVD contains several nice extra. The DVD features a pair of AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first has writer/director Jason Reitman, who does a fine job of discussing the making of the film. He talks about how the film differs from the novel, discusses locations, and heaps praise on his actors. The second talk features Reitman, Aaron Eckhart, and David Koechner. This talk is fun as the trio reminisce about the film's production. They talk about particulars and also joke about some difficult scenes (such as eating). The DVD contains 13 DELETED SCENES which can be viewed with an optional commentary by Reitman and run for about 15 minutes. There is some good stuff here, as the scenes are funny and show some subplots which weren't explored in the finished film. There is an 18-minute excerpt from "The Charlie Rose Show" featuring Reitman, Eckhart, Buckley, and producer David Sacks, in which they discuss the film and its subtext. "Unfiltered Comedy: The Making of Thank You For Smoking" (9 minutes) is a standard making-of featurette which has lots of clips, some behind-the-scenes footage and comments from cast and crew. Reitman and the cast comment on "spin" in "America: Living in Spin" (5 minutes), but this piece has way too many clips. The extras are rounded out with a POSTER ART GALLERY, a ART DEPT. GALLERY, a STORYBOARD GALLERY, and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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