Thank You For Smoking
A sharp and smart satire of Washington double-talk, with Aaron Eckhart burning the screen as a glad-handing tobacco lobbyist.
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To make satire work is an act of will.
To truly savage a topic through sarcasm and humor, the satirist must fight the urge to get sentimental in the final reel. Let up on the subject's neck, even for a moment, and you lose the outrage that fueled the enterprise in the first place.
In "Thank You for Smoking," director/screenwriter Jason Reitman has a lot of will. He nimbly adapts Christopher Buckley's novel into a scaldingly funny send-up of corporate callousness and Washington double-dealing.
Our hero, if you can call him that, is Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), smooth-talking spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies - the industry-funded lobbying group that works tirelessly to not prove that smoking has any ill health effects. When he's not double-talking about "personal responsibility" on TV or before a congressional committee, he's lunching in wood-paneled luxury with his pals Polly (Maria Bello) and Billy Jay (David Koechner), who as representatives of the alcohol and firearms industries have dubbed themselves "The Merchants of Death."
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Nick is starting to question whether his dealings - like persuading a Hollywood exec (Rob Lowe) to write cigarettes into his latest sci-fi blockbuster, or paying hush money to a cancer-stricken Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) - are delivering the right message to his son, Joey (Cameron Bright). Meanwhile, he's romancing an ambitious reporter (Katie Holmes) while also dodging a health-crusading senator (William H. Macy).
Reitman (son of "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman) makes an assured debut, moving swiftly and confidently through Buckley's story. He aims at targets all around, less like a shotgun and more like a multibeamed laser. He may let Big Tobacco off the hook a bit, but that's largely because he's going after bigger game - the merry-go-round of hypocrisy that permeates all sides of every Washington debate.
Eckhart ("Suspect Zero," "The Core") ably carries the weight of the movie, wide smile and dimpled chin set firmly in every scene. He perfectly embodies Nick's sharklike talent to keep moving forward, never playing defense when a good offense will do the trick. Eckhart provides the fire that lights up the slow-burn humor of "Thank You for Smoking."
*By Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune
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