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March 2006

Thank You For Smoking

By Julian Roman

Thank You For Smoking

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Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Jason Reitman
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons, Robert Duvall
   

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Director Jason Reitman proves Hollywood nepotism isn't all bad with his stunning feature length debut, "Thank You for Smoking". The son of famed comedic director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), Jason's adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel is a wildly creative and pointed satirical comedy. Aaron Eckhart, in a stellar performance, stars as smooth talking tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor. Nick spends his days skillfully fending off congress, eating lunch with the "merchants of death" (alcohol and firearm lobbyists played by Maria Bello and David Koechner), and trying to be a good dad to his disillusioned pre-teen son (Cameron Bright). Nick's stock begins to rise when he happens on the brilliant idea of secretly promoting smoking in big-budget Hollywood films. But his dreams of conquering tinsel town with nicotine may be derailed by an ill-conceived affair with nosy reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes).

"Thank You for Smoking" is savagely satirical. It is unflinching in its portrayal of the lobbyists and spares no barbs whatsoever. The film does not take sides. It acknowledges, quite humorously, that cigarettes will kill you and are addictive; but also points the finger to other serial killers such as fast food and the dairy industry. Big tobacco is an easy target and the film cleverly pokes fun at the Washington politicians that try to capitalize on it. I found myself laughing out loud as Nick turns a pack of rabid senators on the defensive as they accuse him of trying to murder children. It is a thinking man's comedy that is intelligent enough to look at all sides and make fun of everyone equally.

Aaron Eckhart plays a jerk better than anyone else. He's mastered this role and absolutely shines here. Eckhart shot to fame as "Chad", the ultra-scumbag womanizer in Neil Labute's "In the Company of Men". His Nick Naylor isn't nearly that bad, but is duplicitous enough to sell glasses to a blind man. What makes the character work and not totally repulsive is the father-son relationship at the center of the film. Nick loves his son and is looking for a way to connect to him. His problem is accomplishing this while being public enemy number one. There's a level of emotional complexity that's deftly handled by Jason Reitman's script. I won't give anything away, but I liked the message of the family sticking together through all circumstances.

Jason Reitman gets an A plus for imagination here. "Thank You for Smoking" is ingeniously creative, filled with enough slick editing, special effects, and camera tricks to dazzle your eyes. He takes a low-budget indie film and runs with what he had to glory. This film in another director's hands would have been shot in a completely straightforward manner. Jason Reitman adds a lot of small touches and that is something rarely seen in movies today.

"Thank You for Smoking" is a small film that will not get a wide release. It'll be hard to find in some places, but is definitely worth searching for. It is a gem, a gutsy satire that really has no major flaws. I can't wait for Jason Reitman's second film. He'll go far if he keeps up this kind of quality.