Big Tobacco, Hollywood and More Satirized in "Smoking"
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2006 10 Oct
DVD Release Date: October 3, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: March 17, 2006
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Jason Reitman
Actors: Aaron Eckhart, Mario Bello, Cameron Bright, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott,
Oh, to be PC! In this on-screen version of Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel, Jason Reitman satirizes not just “Big Tobacco,” but also politicians, Hollywood and journalism as well. And, no matter whose ‘side’ you’re on, it’s very funny indeed.
Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Taylor, the smooth-talking sultan of spin who defends cigarette companies and lobbies against any legislation that would harm his industry. “I have a bachelor's in kicking a--,” he states. “You know that guy who could pick up any girl? That’s me – on crack.” Taylor hasn’t a shred of scruples about his job. In fact, he tries to convince anyone he can about the wonders of smoking, and even takes his son (Cameron Bright) on business trips, where he lectures Joey about the winning way of spin. “If I can convince just one of these kids to pick up smoking, I’ve paid for my trip,” Taylor says, during one of his many jaunts to Winston-Salem, N.C.
Taylor hangs with Polly Bailey (Mario Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), alcohol and firearms comrades in the lobby wars. The threesome calls itself the “M.O.D. Squad,” for “Merchants of Death,” and the hilarious conversations are worth the price of the DVD rental alone. Taylor’s boss is Budd "BR" Rohrabacher (J.K. Simmons), who counts on Taylor to keep the money rolling. BR’s boss is Doak 'The Captain' Boykin (Robert Duvall), a Mint-Julep sipping, old-school Southerner who is just as amoral as he is wealthy. Actually, they’re all immoral in this movie, so why make the distinction?
Naylor’s nemesis is Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy), the Birkenstock-wearing senator who hails from Vermont, the cheese capital. (I thought that was Wisconsin. Anyway. …) Finistirre is on a campaign to label cigarettes as dangerous, with a skull-and-bones label as his advertisement, and Taylor is out to stop him. He does so by taking on cancer victims and activists on television talk shows, where he out-spins the spinmeisters, again and again. In the meantime, Taylor takes time out to pay off a dying cancer patient and negotiate a Hollywood deal to bring back smoking on the big screen (cost: $10 million for Brad Pitt to smoke; $25 million for Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, after a sexual encounter … but for that, Taylor insists, he gets Pitt blowing smoke rings).
Everything is going Taylor’s way until he falls for Washington journalist Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), who is writing an investigative piece on him. Or can Taylor somehow spin this one, too?
Son of Ivan Reitman, who produced “Ghost Busters,” “Stripes” and “Animal House,” writer-director Jason Reitman appears to have inherited some of his father’s knack for comedy, memorable characters and snappy dialogue. “Thank You for Smoking” is a well-written, funny script that is chock-full of great actors, doing their thing. These days, that seems to be a lot to ask of Hollywood, but Reitman delivers. The film is held together by Eckhart’s excellent performance. On several occasions, he communicates a flicker of doubt about what he’s doing, before once again convincing himself that he’s doing the only thing he can – and the right thing.
Equally good is Macy, who conveys the right combination of hesitation and blustery pompousness. The rest of the cast – even Katie Holmes, though she’s far too young for the role – hold up their end of the bargain, save a few lapses by Duvall into that absurd Southern accent which may or may not have been used by Charlestonians sometime prior to 1920, but which every actor today adopts, thinking they’re being so authentic. Koechner, on the other hand, does a hilarious Southern good ole’ boy. I think he and my Daddy must have been friends.
What’s most interesting about this film is its message. Whether it’s Rob Lowe, as the Kimono-wearing Hollywood agent; Adam Brody, as his obsequious assistant; or Sam Elliott, as the Marlboro Man dying of lung cancer (but not too angry to take a bribe), both Buckley and Reitman leave everyone for dead, and their aim is incredibly accurate. Their message is that we’re all for sale. The film also insists that there really is no truth in the world, because everything is smoke and mirrors. We simply believe the one who spins things the best.
What’s scary is how right they are. Not about truth, of course. As Christians, we know there is absolute truth, and we cling to that, amidst the confusion of the world’s many contradictory messages. But just how much spin do we still fall prey to, day after day? Reitman forces us to think – and think hard – about our answers. And he does so in a very entertaining way.
- Director and Cast Commentary
- Deleted Scenes
- "The Charlie Rose Show" Interview with Jason Reitman, Aaron Eckhart, Christopher Buckley and David O. Sachs
- Making-Of Featurette
- "America: Living in Spin" Featurette
- Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking and several discussions about alcohol; ongoing discussion about smoking and its dangers. However, no one smokes onscreen.
- Language/Profanity: Dozens of obscenities and profanities, some of which are graphic (including at least 20 uses of f---).
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Three brief shots, from a distance, of a couple having sex, partially clothed; various brief sexual discussions, some crude.
- Violence: A man is kidnapped and left for dead; representative of ATF-type organization offers a gun to a colleague for protection.