Thank You For Smoking (15)

Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Christopher Buckley (novel) and Jason Reitman (screenplay)
Screening at FACT and Cineworld from 16th June 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Who could possibly defend an industry that kills two planeloads of Americans every day (with the possible exception of Osama bin Laden)? Well, tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) does just that, using a combination of diversion tactics and powerful yet ultimately empty pleas for ‘freedom’ in a could-have-been satire that shadowboxes its way through a wasted hour and a half.

Naylor leads a high pressure life, working hard to win over chatshow audiences and to get ciggies back into the movies. Though he is constantly under attack from anti-smoking zealots, it’s far more of a struggle to stop his ex wife (Kim Dickens) from turning his young son (Cameron Bright) against him. But everything is going more or less swimmingly until he shags a journalist ‘with tits’ (Katie Holmes) and stupidly blurts out all of his sneaky secrets.

There are a few laughs at Naylor’s twisted methods, but Reitman and Buckley don't want to go in for the kill. Instead, I get the idea that they not so secretly admire the sinister art of spin doctoring, and so we are supposed to sympathise with corporate lobbyists who are just ‘paying the mortgage’. We're also supposed to wow at Naylor’s ridiculously transparent arguments. Ok, maybe it would be nice in theory to make a 'free choice' about whether or not to smoke, but what does that actually mean in practice? If someone has a chemical or psychological dependency, are they really ‘free’ to decide? Yes, cheese may clog up some people’s arteries and cause heart attacks. But there are no addictive chemicals in cheese which leave you wanting more than is healthy. Those are the comebacks, right off the top of my head. Why do no characters make them? What is the agenda here?

So the ‘satire’ bit doesn’t go very far, and Reitman resorts to padding out the time with soap-style relationship dilemmas and pseudo-documentary bits. Many of the lead performances are actually very enjoyable, particularly Eckhart as the annoyingly effective king of spin. There are also solid cameos from William H Macy as pro cheese Senator Finistirre and Robert Duvall as an ailing tobacco godfather. But this is nowhere near enough to rescue us from a moribund script which wastes an opportunity to fully expose the smoke and mirrors politics of big business.

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