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April 22, 2006
Movie Review: Thank You For Smoking

We decided to go out to see a movie this evening, and instead of going for some cheap escapism, we chose the political satire Thank You For Smoking, a viciously hilarious and twisted look at lobbying and the tobacco industry. This movie has been out for quite a while, and while most of those who are inclined to see it probably already have, the rest should consider it.

Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, a ruthless tobacco industry flack who tells himself that he argues for the defenseless. The movie starts out with a skin-crawling sequence where his character appears on a Joan Lunden talk show along with a teenager dying of cancer and manages to charm the kid into shaking hands with him while the audience shifts from visibile hostility to acceptance. Needless to say, this kind of talent allows Naylor to make a very comfortable living. Unfortunately, a desire to connect with his son and a very attractive and equally ruthless Washington reporter is about to undo all the work he has ever done -- and give him an opportunity for a world-class comeback.

The movie doesn't have a single mediocrity in it. Maria Bello plays a supporting role as an equally cynical alcohol-industry flack. William H. Macy brilliantly plays a Birkenstock-wearing, egotistical, and pseudointellectual Vermont senator determined to best Naylor and undermine the tobacco industry. Katie Holmes has a small but significant role as the reporter who screws Naylor in more ways than one. Sam Elliott plays an aging Marlboro Man dying of his association with tobacco who allows Naylor to manipulate him. But the main reason the movie works is the performance of Cameron Bright, who appears a bit too open to his father's role modeling.

The movie, based on a widely acclaimed novel by Christopher Buckley (the son of conservative icon William F. Buckley), delivers a joyful sort of cynicism that makes us laugh at the worst instincts of human nature. The movie makes it possible to sympathize with a man who has an irredeemable job and actually believe that he may have a point. In its way, it argues for Naylor in the same way that Naylor argues for tobacco -- and damned if you won't start thinking about smoking in Naylor's terms of libertarian politics even while you see it for the manipulation it is. That comes to a glorious climax in the committee hearing scene that all political movies must include ... and it demands an answer to the hypocrisy of the politics surrounding the issue while providing an epiphany for Naylor.

If you haven't yet seen this movie -- and I admit I may be among the last -- be sure to see it soon, before it disappears altogether.

Addendum: I have to note that the end credits are accompanied by one of my favorite folk songs, "Greenback Dollar", sung by the Kingston Trio. The First Mate was surprised when I sung the entire song almost word for word along with the credits, but I have a Hoyt Axton version of the song as well as a recording of Jim Croce and his college band performing it that I've had for years.

UPDATE: The title of this post had the movie name incorrect; thanks to reader David H for pointing it out -- and he also recommends the movie.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 22, 2006 9:07 PM

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