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THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, 2005
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, William H Macy, Katie Holmes, J.K. Simmons, Cameron Bright, Maria Bello
Tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor tries to act as a good role model for his son while simultaneously facing off against a senator pushing an anti-smoking agenda.
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Thank You For Smoking, the feature length debut of director Jason Reitman, marked him as a great talent to watch and gave Aaron Eckhart the chance to play a leading role in an incredibly clever, funny satire. Eckhart, who for many years seemed to hover just under most moviegoers' radar, finally achieved widespread popularity for his riveting portrayal of Harvey Dent in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008). But here he proves that he has long possessed the looks and talent of a leading man, portraying a character that we should hate but end up supporting - a tobacco lobbyist.
But Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is no run-of-the-mill tobacco lobbyist. He's seen as the best, outwitting state senators and shaking hands with cancer sufferers on daytime TV talk shows. His gift is a remarkable ability to win just about any argument, no small feat when you represent an industry that kills millions a year. As Nick himself says, "You know the guy who can pick up any girl? I'm him. On crack." But his calm, cool and collected veneer seems to crack when he spends time with his son Joey, a smart and innocent kid who is glad for any time he gets to spend with his dad - even when that time involves Nick taking a suitcase full of money to a cancer-inflicted Marlboro Man.
Eckhart shines in the role, wearing the smooth-talking attitude of a lobbyist like a tailored suit but stripping it off whenever he faces the people who are truly important to him. When things start going wrong for him - a journalist (ably played by Katie Holmes) writes a damning tell-all article about him, a gang of militant anti-tobacco activists kidnap him and force him to overdose on nicotine - we feel his pain. It doesn't hurt that the leading man is supported by a cast of excellent performers. William H Macy stands out as Naylor's greatest foe, Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre, a man using anti-smoking sentiments for political gain. But he isn't alone - from Maria Bello and David Koechner as fellow lobbyists to JK Simmons as Naylor's boss and Cameron Bright as the wonderful Joey, the major players all shine, as do many of the minor ones.
Dialogue snaps and crackles, perfectly-played one-liners stemming from a script that Reitman himself wrote, adapted from a novel by Christopher Buckley. The editing captures the sense of pace and speed as we dart from television interviews and a Congressional hearing, slowing down as Nick reflects on his life upon hearing that he must never smoke again. It's a fitting irony that a film about a tobacco lobbyist never actually features anyone smoking a cigarette - a move that makes the film less about what the central character does and more about who he is. When Naylor rises from the ashes, then, the viewer cheers for him, tackling Finistirre over the fat content of Vermont cheese while declaring the right to smoke as important as the right to freedom of speech. Your own views on the matter might be a little different, but even the biggest opponent of cigarettes can't help but applaud Nick's ability to spin the argument in any direction he wants.
With exceptional direction, a sparkling script and great performances aplenty, Thank You For Smoking is a brilliant satirical comedy. Watch it and be thoroughly entertained - but try not to be too taken by Naylor's arguments.