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Thank You For Smoking (15)

PUBLISHED: 10:32 16 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:10 27 October 2010

ANDREW CLARKE

This black, uncompromisingly perverse film is a glorious celebration of modern society’s obsession with spin and blame culture. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, the mouthpiece for America’s tobacco industry.

ANDREW CLARKE

America is not well known for its understanding of satire, but Thank You For Smoking gives us cause for hope.

This black, uncompromisingly perverse film is a glorious celebration of modern society's obsession with spin and blame culture. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Naylor, the mouthpiece for America's tobacco industry.

He is very good at his job - so much so that he goes on to a daytime talk show alongside anti-smoking pressure groups and a 15-year-old lad suffering lung cancer and actually turns the tables on them and makes them appear to be emotional blackmailers.

But it is a short-lived victory, for crusading senator Ortolan K Finistirre of Vermont (William H Macy at his scene-stealing best) is out to bury the tobacco industry and slap a poison warning on every pack of cigarettes.

But Naylor is not to be out-manoeuvred and on a live TV debate completely wrong-foots Finistirre asking why after announcing this attack on America's personal freedom he flew to a photo opportunity to claim concern for the welfare of America's farmers when tobacco is one of their largest crops? Finistirre blusters in reply but Naylor has won the point.

In an effort to reclaim some ground from the healthy lifestyle lobby Naylor persuades The Captain (Robert Duvall), the avuncular Colonel Sanders-style tobacco boss, to fund a big Hollywood campaign to get cigarettes back on screen - just like they did during Bogart's day.

The irony, of course, is that it was cigarettes that killed Humphrey Bogart in the most cruel, drawn-out way - reducing him to a skeleton of a man trapped in a bed with an oxygen mask strapped to his face.

Rob Lowe has a nicely drawn cameo as a smooth-talking Hollywood super-agent who will engineer Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones to have a post-coital puff in their latest sci-fi movie providing the tobacco industry can stump up enough cash for everyone to make it worth their while.

Thank You For Smoking is a delightfully seditious movie. It has fun at the expense of a whole herd of sacred cows. One of the best flights of fancy is that Naylor has a weekly, informal meeting with his opposite numbers in the alcohol and arms industries. They call their exclusive club Merchants of Death and have an on-going debate about whose products kill more people during the course of the year.

There are not just clever jibes at the world of spin doctors, the shallow nature of politicians and the emptiness of political correctness, but there is a pivotal sub-plot which explores Naylor's own need to make a connection with his own son following the break-up of his marriage.

Meanwhile, Katie Holmes arrives on the scene as a morally ambiguous journalist determined to discover the real Nick Naylor - at any price.

The film is an audacious piece of work that is screamingly funny and at the same time quite shocking in what it does and how it says things.

Eckhart, an actor who normally exists in the world of small-scale arthouse movies, makes a great leading man and is backed up by a fantastic cast. JK Simmons redoes his J Jonah Jameson routine from Spider-Man brilliantly as the tough-talking day-to-day head of the tobacco industry while Macy delivers a believably chillingly performance of an opportunistic politician.

Even Cameron Bright as Naylor's son gives a very restrained and appealing performance as he accompanies his father on his road trips and tries to get his head around what it is that his father actually does for a living.

Wonderfully observed and brilliantly written, this is a perfect cross-over film appealing to both arthouse and mainstream audiences. An unexpected joy.


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