Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 1; L – 2 ; S/N – 5. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

As for you, you whitewash with lies;
all of you are worthless physicians…
They make night into day;
”The light”, they say, “is near to the darkness.”
Job 13:4; 17:12

Thank You For Smoking

They did not have lobbyists in the days of the patriarch Job, but if there were, he might have applied to them the same charge he hurled at his so-called comforters. In director Jason Reitman’s first film, his own adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s satirical novel aimed at the tobacco industry, we follow the exploits of the No. 2 man at the Washington, DC Academy for the Study of Tobacco. We first see Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) on “The Joan Lunden Show.” He is the lone member of the panel to defend Big Tobacco. It is probably no accident that he is seated next to 15 year-old Robin, bareheaded because of the futile treatments to slow his terminal cancer. Robin has sworn off smoking and now speaks to teenagers to warn them of the perils of smoking. When the moderator challenges Nick in regard to Robin, Nick is ready with an answer: “It’s in our best interests to keep Robin alive and smoking. The anti-smoking people want Robin to die.” This spin catches the anti-smoking people off guard, thus placing them on the defensive. Nick will use a similar trick when he is asked to speak to a class of school children. Nick knows how to use words to skewer an opponent or put a new slant on just about anything.

The divorced Nick tries to stay in close touch with his son Joey (Cameron Bright), which requires him to resort to his talent of spin in order to answer the boy’s questions about how he makes a living and why so many people hate him and his work. The questions keep on coming when Joey convinces his father to take him along on a trip to Los Angeles, where the elder Naylor is to meet with super agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) to convince film studios and stars to incorporate cigarettes more into their stories. As Nick had pointed out when he pitched his idea to his Academy colleagues earlier, in the good old days, when sound came to the movies, the actors had to do something with their hands while speaking, hence the incorporation of cigarettes, which soon became symbols of manliness and worldly sophistication. The dialogue between lobbyist and agent, both slick characters, is a hilarious instance of mutual interests plotting to take in the unwary public.

Nick truly seems to have no qualms as to what he is doing, especially when coming up against Vermont’s Sen. Finistirre (William H. Macy). The good Senator, his desk littered with samples of maple syrup, plans to introduce a bill requiring that a large, ominous-looking skull and crossbones be placed on the front of cigarette packets. Nick is to testify at the hearings, hoping to bring his usual spin to the proceedings. However, when he thinks he is speaking off the record while having sex with Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), a luscious newspaper reporter, he spills most of his lobbying secrets to her, which wind up in her front-page article. As soon as the newspaper appears, Nick finds himself without a job, with his circle of friends being reduced to the two with whom he has been meeting regularly at a favorite watering hole. Calling themselves the MOD Squad (which stands for Merchants of Death), his remaining two friends are Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), lobbyist for the alcohol industry, and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), a firearms lobbyist. The three compete in bragging as to who has the most woes or whose industry kills the most people.

Mention should also be made of Robert Duvall’s performance as The Captain, the most influential of the tobacco titans. As with his performances in Network and A Civil Action, the actor epitomizes the corporate head used to getting his own way without any qualms of conscience as to how he achieves his goals. Just when we think thata father-son theme is being brought in the plot swerves abruptly.

The filmmakers refuse to give in to the liberal desire for Nick to come to his senses and renounce his wicked, wicked ways, opting instead for a different, somewhat surprising climax. The film comes at a good time, when the nation is upset with the excesses of Washington lobbyists. We find ourselves laughing at the humor and witty dialogue, while having conflicting feelings about Nick and his values. There were times when I thought of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6 while Nick was explaining things to his son.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What do you think of Nick’s way with words? How do we see him making “night into day” and light into near darkness? What do you think of his telling his son that his job requires a “moral flexibility”? How flexible? (In fact, what morals do you see involved in his job?

2) Have you noticed that actors are lighting up more in movies than before? Do you think this is coincidental, actually plot-driven, or do you think there have been some Nick Naylors hard at work in Hollywood?

3) Nick and Big Tobacco claim that they do not want teenagers to smoke: does the evidence support such a claim? Check through magazines and study the tobacco ads: to whom do they seem directed?

4) What do you think of the way in which the anti-tobacco people are depicted, especially Sen. Finistirre? How do moral crusaders often leave themselves open to such lampooning?

5) How does Nick manage to put a spin on the suitcase full of hundred dollar bills when he speaks to the dying actor who had been the Marlboro, Man Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott)? What do you think of this tactic to buy his silence? A placing temptation before a weak man? (See Matthew 18:7 for some sobering words on this!) What would you do if you were in Lorne’s place?

Thank You For Smoking Rated R. Our ratings: V- 1; L – 2 ; S/N – 5. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians… They make night into day; ”The light”, they say, “is near to the darkness.” Job 13:4; 17:12

They did not have lobbyists in the days of the patriarch Job, but if there were, he might have applied to them the same charge he hurled at his so-called comforters. In director Jason Reitman’s first film, his own adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s satirical novel aimed at the tobacco industry, we follow the exploits of the No. 2 man at the Washington, DC Academy for the Study of Tobacco. We first see Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) on “The Joan Lunden Show.” He is the lone member of the panel to defend Big Tobacco. It is probably no accident that he is seated next to 15 year-old Robin, bareheaded because of the futile treatments to slow his terminal cancer. Robin has sworn off smoking and now speaks to teenagers to warn them of the perils of smoking. When the moderator challenges Nick in regard to Robin, Nick is ready with an answer: “It’s in our best interests to keep Robin alive and smoking. The anti-smoking people want Robin to die.” This spin catches the anti-smoking people off guard, thus placing them on the defensive. Nick will use a similar trick when he is asked to speak to a class of school children. Nick knows how to use words to skewer an opponent or put a new slant on just about anything.

The divorced Nick tries to stay in close touch with his son Joey (Cameron Bright), which requires him to resort to his talent of spin in order to answer the boy’s questions about how he makes a living and why so many people hate him and his work. The questions keep on coming when Joey convinces his father to take him along on a trip to Los Angeles, where the elder Naylor is to meet with super agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) to convince film studios and stars to incorporate cigarettes more into their stories. As Nick had pointed out when he pitched his idea to his Academy colleagues earlier, in the good old days, when sound came to the movies, the actors had to do something with their hands while speaking, hence the incorporation of cigarettes, which soon became symbols of manliness and worldly sophistication. The dialogue between lobbyist and agent, both slick characters, is a hilarious instance of mutual interests plotting to take in the unwary public.

Nick truly seems to have no qualms as to what he is doing, especially when coming up against Vermont’s Sen. Finistirre (William H. Macy). The good Senator, his desk littered with samples of maple syrup, plans to introduce a bill requiring that a large, ominous-looking skull and crossbones be placed on the front of cigarette packets. Nick is to testify at the hearings, hoping to bring his usual spin to the proceedings. However, when he thinks he is speaking off the record while having sex with Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), a luscious newspaper reporter, he spills most of his lobbying secrets to her, which wind up in her front-page article. As soon as the newspaper appears, Nick finds himself without a job, with his circle of friends being reduced to the two with whom he has been meeting regularly at a favorite watering hole. Calling themselves the MOD Squad (which stands for Merchants of Death), his remaining two friends are Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), lobbyist for the alcohol industry, and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), a firearms lobbyist. The three compete in bragging as to who has the most woes or whose industry kills the most people.

Mention should also be made of Robert Duvall’s performance as The Captain, the most influential of the tobacco titans. As with his performances in Network and A Civil Action, the actor epitomizes the corporate head used to getting his own way without any qualms of conscience as to how he achieves his goals. Just when we think thata father-son theme is being brought in the plot swerves abruptly.

The filmmakers refuse to give in to the liberal desire for Nick to come to his senses and renounce his wicked, wicked ways, opting instead for a different, somewhat surprising climax. The film comes at a good time, when the nation is upset with the excesses of Washington lobbyists. We find ourselves laughing at the humor and witty dialogue, while having conflicting feelings about Nick and his values. There were times when I thought of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6 while Nick was explaining things to his son.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What do you think of Nick’s way with words? How do we see him making “night into day” and light into near darkness? What do you think of his telling his son that his job requires a “moral flexibility”? How flexible? (In fact, what morals do you see involved in his job?

2) Have you noticed that actors are lighting up more in movies than before? Do you think this is coincidental, actually plot-driven, or do you think there have been some Nick Naylors hard at work in Hollywood?

3) Nick and Big Tobacco claim that they do not want teenagers to smoke: does the evidence support such a claim? Check through magazines and study the tobacco ads: to whom do they seem directed?

4) What do you think of the way in which the anti-tobacco people are depicted, especially Sen. Finistirre? How do moral crusaders often leave themselves open to such lampooning?

5) How does Nick manage to put a spin on the suitcase full of hundred dollar bills when he speaks to the dying actor who had been the Marlboro, Man Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott)? What do you think of this tactic to buy his silence? A placing temptation before a weak man? (See Matthew 18:7 for some sobering words on this!) What would you do if you were in Lorne’s place?