Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review: Thank You for Smoking


Title: Thank You for Smoking
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Jason Reitman
MPAA Rating: R
Excellence: 2 stars
Summary in a sentence: Man who is one of the rising stars of the tobacco lobby gets ratted out by a newspaper reporter regarding all the tactics and devices he uses to lead the public into smoking more, all under the premises of “paying the mortgage.”

One of the most memorable lines in this movie is the protagonist telling us: "99% of all things, good or bad, that are done in the world, are done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps it would be better if everyone rented." And if the movie continued on in this satrical vein, without unnecessary detours, it would be decidedly brilliant. But we knew that wasn't going to happen.

I think what is tragic about this movie is that it takes (and lands) quite a few jabs at our corporate culture and it could be a great movie if it didn’t vitiate itself by pointless excursions into the immorality that is today’s status quo.

The main character, Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart), explains to us in a tone and cinematography reminiscent of a Michael Moore documentary, that he knows smoking is bad, but that his job is to obfuscate that behind smoke (no pun intended) and mirrors. Indeed, at the end of the movie, Nick is reassuring some corporate bigwigs: “Gentlemen, relax. You need to practice saying ‘While we continue to study the matter, there is no conclusive evidence that links cell phone usage to brain cancer.'” They let out a sigh of relief, and all is well.

That’s the heart of this movie – justifying the “flexible morality” that Nick tells his son all lobbyists must have. This flexible morality allows him to bring a bribe to the Marlboro Man, who is speaking out against the tobacco companies. It allows him to joke around with his buddies in the MOD (Merchants of Death) squad who represent alcohol and firearms. They seriously discuss who has a more dangerous product - with Nick at one point ridiculing his colleagues at how few people their product kills in comparison to his (tobacco). It also allows him to have sex with Katie Holmes, who is playing a newspaper reporter – who uses this relationship as a tool to get all the information she needs to rat out Nick, which she does right after he is kidnapped and nearly killed and public sympathy is swinging the way of tobacco. Indeed, the hospital room is the location for the memorable line “Smoking saved your life.” The kidnappers had slapped an incredible amount of nicotine patches on Nick, and had he not been used to having nicotine in his system, the amount of nicotine would have killed him. The irony is decidedly effective.

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