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THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons, Robert Duvall
Director: Jason Reitman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: October 3, 2006

“Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk.”

Film ****

Not since Wag the Dog has there been a more brilliantly scathing satire than Thank You For Smoking. Not only is the film funny in regards to satire, but it’s quite simply one of the funniest films in ages. It pulls no punches and lets no one of the hook, and the lead character is one of the sharpest and more charming characters you’ll ever come across.

He is Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart in what may be the actor’s finest achievement yet in addition to being a top Oscar consideration for Best Actor), a lobbyist who speaks on behalf of none other than Academy of Tobacco Studies. How good is he at his job? Well let’s just say that he could probably even convince the Surgeon General that cigarettes are not that bad.

The film opens on a hilarious note with Nick as a guest on The Joan Lunden Show. That is, the guest who sticks out like a sore thumb. The guests sitting beside him are a Health Advocate, a representative of Mother’s Against Teen Smoking, and a boy dying of cancer, dubbed “Cancer Boy”.

“You know that guy who can get any girl? I’m him…ON CRACK.”

All Nick has to do is talk, and he can make the most insane comments seem not so insane. It’s his charming quality. He maintains that in no way would Big Tobacco profit from the loss of the cancer-stricken boy…because they’d be losing a customer. He then proceeds to accuse the Health Advocate guest of profiting off of cancer patients.

Just a few scenes later, Nick is speaking in front of his son’s class on Career Day. He effortlessly paints a scenario to the class. Cigarettes are a lot like chocolate in the sense that if someone tells you that chocolate is bad for you, are you just going to take their word for it? And he does it all with a million dollar grin on his face.

Nick is actually part of a reputed trio known as the M.O.D. Squad (Merchants of Death). His two other assailants are alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), who knows her product well due to a rare form of high tolerance, and gun lobbyist Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), whose interest in guns was triggered by the 1972 shooting incident at Kent College, thinking if he was a good enough marksman, he’d get to shoot college students too. In one scene, the three of them argue over which of the three jobs actually kills the most people.

“We don’t sell Tic Tacs, we sell cigarettes. And they’re cool, available and ADDICTIVE! The job is almost done for us!”

Nick’s boss is Budd “BR” Rohrabacher (the priceless J.K. Simmons) who is searching for a new strategy to promote their product. Leave it to Nick to come up with one; putting smoking back in the movies. Since BR sees Nick as the only one using his head, Nick is immediately sent to Hollywood to negotiate the sell with Hollywood mega-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe). The goal is to get every high noted celebrity smoking on screen, since only villains and Europeans are the only characters lighting up these days.

Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy) is planning to launch a campaign to slam Nick and the entire Tobacco industry. He’s a proud Vermont-er, with an office decorated with maple syrup bottles and cheese. He pretty much wants to have a skull and crossbones placed on every single pack.

Nick isn’t too worried about Sen. Finistirre, who he can knock down with an easy blow. However, it’s a meeting with reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) that may end up destroying him. He ends up seducing her, and she wants a good story. As a result, Nick tells all about secret money dealings, the movie deal and his weekly visits with the M.O.D. Squad. Can Nick’s mouth save him from this one?

“Well, the REAL demonstrated number one killer in America is cholesterol and here comes Sen. Finistirre whose fine state is, I regret to say, clogging the nation’s arteries with Vermont cheddar cheese.”

The film is the debut of writer/director Jason Reitman (Ivan’s son) and it is certainly one of the most impressive debuts I’ve ever seen. Reitman was a true fan of Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel, and it really shows in his adapted screenplay. The satirical qualities push all the right buttons and at no point does it ever soften up.

And how about this cast? It’s a phenomenal lineup of talent, and Aaron Eckhart delivers what may be the best performance I’ve seen from a lead actor so far this year. Eckhart is no stranger to playing unlikable characters (In the Company of Men, anyone?), but as Nick Naylor, he truly outdoes himself. Here’s a character that we’re supposed to despise, and yet he is so charming and energetic, you can’t help but to cheer for him. You just want him to talk more and more and knock down each of his opponents in the process.

Thank You For Smoking is riding very high on my list of the Best Films of 2006. Anyone who appreciates sharp scathing satire should light this one up immediately.

“That’s the beauty of argument, because if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.”

Video ****

This is one smokin’ anamorphic presentation from Fox, and one of the sharpest presentations I’ve seen from them all year. The image is continuously crisp and clear from one scene to the next. Colors are magnificent and natural as can be. The wide picture delivers an amazing amount of detail. Outstanding in every sense.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix soars in adding a bit of audio flare to a dialogue driven film. Several sound techniques are used in a number of scenes to give a funnier effect. Dialogue delivery is strong and clear, several set pieces add a great deal to scenes with crowds in terms of background noise, and music playback is nicely handled.

Features ****

You will definitely get your fix with this fire-packed release from Fox. Included are two commentary tracks; one with writer/director Jason Reitman and the second with Reitman, Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner. Also featured are two featurettes, “Unfiltered Comedy: The Making of Thank You For Smoking” and “America: Living in Spin”. There’s also a Charlie Rose interview segment with Jason Reitman, Aaron Eckhart, author Christopher Buckley and producer David O. Sacks. Lastly, there are Deleted Scenes, a poster art gallery, art department gallery, storyboard gallery, a Theatrical Trailer and soundtrack spot.

Summary:

Thank You For Smoking is one of the best satires to ever reach film, and it’s also an engaging piece of filmmaking and one of the 2006’s truly best films. It’s a film worth getting very additcted to.

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