Thank You for Smoking
Not just anyone could turn a slick, glib tobacco industry lobbyist into a sympathetic character. All the more reason to praise writer/director Jason Reitman and actor Aaron Eckhart, then, for pulling it off so adeptly in Thank You for Smoking (2005). Adapted from Christopher Buckley's novel, the satirical film centers on Nick Naylor (Eckhart), star spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies essentially, a spin factory bought and paid for by the cigarette companies. Nick's job is to represent big tobacco on the front lines of the war on smoking, constantly looking for ways to both defend and promote an industry that kills 1,200 people a day. How does Nick sleep at night? Very well, thank you; he's a champion debater with a self-described "moral flexibility" that allows him to find satisfaction in doing what very few others would be able to (or, for that matter, would want to). For Nick, it's the easiest thing in the world to stand up for smoking as a personal choice who is he to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn't do? But being one of the most despised people in the country has its downsides: It's pretty hard for Nick to sell his job to the kids in his son Joey's (Cameron Bright) class on career day; politicians like Vermont's excitable Sen. Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) are always out to get him; and his only real friends are fellow "Merchants of Death" Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) lobbyists for the alcohol and firearm industries. Toss pretty, ambitious reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) and Asia-obsessed Hollywood super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) into the mix, and not even a shyster like Nick will be able to get away completely unscathed. But somehow Eckhart makes it impossible not to root for this grinning, supremely self-confident spin doctor like young Joey, we find ourselves cheering Nick on as he uses impeccable logic to turn anti-smoking arguments on their ear. Nick's relationship with his son is the movie's emotional core. Nick obviously takes pleasure in his son's company, and Joey adores and admires his dad, eagerly taking in everything Nick can teach him about making an argument and backing it up. As the movie progresses, Joey realizes that his father isn't perfect, but that seems to make him love Nick all the more and if Joey can do it, so can audiences. Thank You for Smoking is at its best during the father-son scenes and the fast-talking satirical ones, particularly Nick's regular dinners with Polly and Bobby Jay and his meeting in L.A. with Jeff. The film falters a bit in other spots, most notably in Nick's relationship with Heather (it's hard to believe a guy this sharp would be so naive). But, like Nick, Thank You for Smoking ultimately comes out on top, leaving you wanting more of something you feel like you probably shouldn't be enjoying quite so much. Fox brings the movie to DVD in a clean, sharp anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (a Spanish surround track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also available). Reitman weighs in on two separate commentary tracks one solo, the other with Eckhart and Koechner (in both, Reitman discusses the circumstances surrounding the Eckhart-Holmes sex scene, which caused a stir at the Sundance Film Festival when it was accidentally dropped from the screening print and speculation about Scientology censorship ran rampant). Other extras include 13 minutes of mostly decent deleted scenes (with optional commentary); an excerpt from "The Charlie Rose Show" featuring Reitman, Buckley, Eckhart, and producer David O. Sacks; a "making-of" featurette (9 min.); another brief featurette about "spin" in America; poster, art, and storyboard galleries; the trailer; and a soundtrack spot. Keep-case.