Thank You for Smoking

Dir: Jason Reitman
Star: Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, William H. Macy, Kim Dickens

I was mildly entertained by this satirical look at the world of spin, but can't help thinking that, in targeting business rather than government, it ends up wide of the target. I mean, unless cigarettes are in some way a metaphor for everything that's happened since 9/11; as spin goes, that licks whatever the private sector can manage into a cocked hat. Given this is largely mis-aimed, then, it works okay, with Eckhart a satisfyingly smarmy turn as tobacco industry spokesman Nick Naylor, whose main job is to divert criticism, by any means he can. This brings him into conflict with Senator Finistirre (Macy), intent on affixing a skull and crossbones to cigarette packs, and he also has to justify his job to his son (Bright), who is beginning to ask awkward questions.

It's not particularly anti-tobacco, and the general theme is how "truth" these days depends on who's talking, and more importantly, who's paying your salary. Once that's been said - and I don't find I particularly need Hollywood to say it - the film doesn't have much to offer. At one point, it threatens to drift into Talk Radio territory, when Naylor gets a death threat; yet that thread never goes anywhere much. The irony of Finistirre's position is limited to a volly at Vermont cheese, ignoring the billions the government rakes in every year from taxing cigarettes. That why, while I can't deny this hits its victims, I just sense they're not the real culprits. Indeed, the film's most effective satire is perhaps Rob Lowe's slimy Hollywood agent, telling Naylor that for $25m he can get Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones to smoke after sex. You laugh, then realise that's possibly exactly what happens...

November 2006

Pack of lies
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