April 5, 2006

Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking

When I first saw the trailer for this some months ago, I could not wait to see it. It looked hilarious, a satire about lobbyists, what will they think of next. Then when the release date rolled around, I found that it was only getting a limited release and none of the dates were near me. Then the clouds lifted, Thank You for Smoking was going to play at the local arthouse. Enough of that, I am sure that none of you really care how I came to see it, just that I did, and you want to know what I thought about it.

The film focuses on Nick Naylor, the lobbyist for Big Tobacco. Follow him as he spins anything and everything he can to put the sellers of cancer sticks in a positive light. One thing to remember when you go in is that this may focus on tobacco, but it isn't really about tobacco, you could substitute any lobby and get essentially the same film.

Anyway, Nick is introduced as a guest on the Joan Lunden show, where he is being setup. Other guests include anti-smoking groups and a 15 year old cancer patient who has given up smoking. Naylor demonstrates his ability to flip any situation in his favor, explaining how it is in their best interest to keep the "cancer boy" alive.

We follow him as he attempts to balance work and creating a relationship with his son. His job sends him on a mission to Hollywood, where he needs to convince a top agent that they need to get stars to smoke in the movies again. We also get to see him meet with the lobbyists for alcohol and firearms, taken en toto they are dubbed the MOD squad, or Merchants of Death. They discuss the relative death tolls of their products, and to beware of reporters. You see, while Nick is out working, spreading the good word about tobacco, occasionally with his son in tow, there is an investigative reporter looking to dig up whatever she can on him. To add another layer, there is a senator leading a crusade to label cigarrettes with a skull and crossbones label.

The film is hilarious, the word play and visual gags are priceless. For example, one visual cue that was great was the name of the school where Nick went to speak, St. Euthanasius. But for all the hilarity thrown at the audience, the film is rather softball. Rather than really offer much insight, but that really doesn't seem to be the point. It seems that the film is just meant to entertain, to deliver a funny look into the life of a lobbyist, as over the top as it is.

There is a lot of style to the film, it just glides along as greasily as the twisted logic used by the smarmy lobbyists. The film sets up points on both sides, as well as the reasons to laugh at both sides. We all know the dangers of smoking, but watching the circular logic employed is fantastic entertainment.

As an aside: For a movie centered on a tobacco lobbyist, it is interesting to note that not a single cigarette gets lit during the course of the film.

Bottomline. This film is enormously entertaining. It has a style that makes it stand out from the crowd. It may not tread any new ground, content wise, but it is so much fun to watch that you won't care.

Highly Recommended.
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