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Thank You for Smoking

Mortgage vs. Conscience

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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Thank You for Smoking

Katie Holmes and Aaron Eckhart in "Thank You for Smoking"

A thoroughly enjoyable satire. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), top spokesman for Big Tobacco, is the kind of slick spinmeister for whom Stephen Colbert coined the word of the year 2005: "truthiness" is what the cigarette advocate is all about. Naylor is the very definition of shamelessness. When his son Joey (Cameron Bright) takes him to school for "bring your parents" day, Dad impresses the kids with a convincing argument that smoking might not be as bad as everybody says--to the teacher's horror and Joey's embarassment.

The Merchants of Death

Directed and adapted by Jason Reitman from Christopher Buckley's novel, "Thank You for Smoking" is a brisk comedy that, like Nick Naylor's career, gets by on Buckley's wit and Aaron Eckhart's charm. He might be called "a mass murderer, blood sucker, pimp, profiteer and yuppie mephistopheles," but with his huge grin, Naylor wins the sympathy of cancer patients and scores points against an anti-smoking senator from Vermont (William H. Macy.) Southern tobacco patriach Robert Duvall has great plans for him, and so does Katie Holmes as spunky investigative journalist (I'm happy to report that the disappearing sex scene that caused a minor stir at Sundance has been replaced in its acrobatic, apartment-rattling glory.)
While Naylor goes about his questionable business, his only other friends are the "Merchants of Death," lobbyists for firearms and alcohol (Maria Bello and David Koechner), with whom he engages in morbid one-upsmanship about whose product kills more consumers. Everybody's rationale: "We have a mortgage to pay."

Obviously, there are the requisite senate hearings in the third act, but the true heart of the movie is the relationship between Naylor and his impressionable young son. Joey absorbs lessons about the finer points of spin, framing the discussion, and plain-old lying without losing his moral bearings. In the end, he even manages to restore some of dad's integrity, and the satire reveals itself as wishful thinking: unlike America's real spinmeisters, the fictional "Merchants of Death" are hobbled by their conscience.

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