After thirty minutes of Thank You For Smoking, i was sold on them. And that’s no mean feat – i’m asthmatic! Lighting up is a risk more to me than alot of other people. But that was the power of Eckhart’s first lead role. I watched Thank You For Smoking for the first time this week. It was Jason Reitman’s feature debut as director, significant now because Reitman was nominated in last weekend’s Golden Globes for his latest Up In The Air. Many expected it to be a straight fight between this movie and The Hurt Locker for best picture. Filmfour’s money was clearly on Reitman, they showed Thank You For Smoking hours before the Globes started. In the end, the juggernaut that is Avatar brushed both aside, and only a fool would now bet against it for the Oscars.
Thank You… and Up In The Air have a similar theme at heart. Successful executives, selling a lifestyle that they are then caused to question. But whilst Up In The Air has warmth and some heart, Thank You is very much a cold blooded satire. Eckhart’s Nick Naylor is a spokesman for The Academy of Tobacco Studies. He gets paid to talk, and he’s good at it. A good job, because he basically has to sell cigarettes to a society no longer ignorant to the dangers. A thankless task, but he’s not in it for gratitude. Everyone has a mortgage to pay.
The arguments contained herein are not new ones, and they are not supposed to be. The dangerous effects are unproven, driving a car can be just as risky, people have a right to choose. All well known, commonly heard defences at the time. It’s the presentation that’s key, and it’s the way that Eckhart sells it that makes this movie, and made the actor’s career. Charismatic, charming, with apparent belief in what he is saying, Naylor makes a compelling argument. It’s not all down to the actor of course. The writing is brilliant, the dialogue well worded. But it would have been easy for Nick Naylor to come across arrogant and smug. Eckhart somehow pulls it off, and though less polished than his really quite similar Harvey Dent a couple of years later, you really buy into it.
Once the wheels start to come off his career, you see more of the character’s human side. His interactions with his son reveal more of his soft side, as he questions his ability to be a good father. The message of the story then becomes a little clearer, but a lot is unsaid in Thank You For Smoking. Director Reitman likes his audiences to decide things for themselves.
The biggest question is why does Naylor want to sell the unsellable? Why defend something you know to be harmful? He gives various reasons (excuses?) over the duration. Is he really doing it simply to pay the mortgage? Is it true he feels the maligned industries deserve a fair trial? Or does he do the job purely because he’s good at it? Again, it’s for us to decide.
Personally, i think he likes the challenge. He wants to enforce a belief that smoking isn’t bad for you, a viewpoint he doesn’t even necessarily share, because he takes pleasure in winning the unwinnable argument. In the end, he admits cigarettes are detrimental to peoples health as a way to win a battle. The message at the end of the movie is made clear. We all have a right to chose, the information is available to make an informed decision, and we can’t use ignorance as an excuse to cast blame upon others.
Thank You For Smoking is by no means a perfect movie. But it was a damn fine feature debut, well constructed and intelligently written. It was a portent of what was to come from Reitman, and with follow up Juno and now Up In The Air the young director has gone from strength to strength. It won’t be his year at the Oscars, but Reitman has shown he has the talent and I believe the voice to consistently make great movies, and eventually win the ultimate prize.
Thank You For Smoking is available now on DVD.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at