Thank you for smoking

Thank you for smoking is a satire of the sanctimony and hypocrisy of the anti-smoking crusade. The anti-hero is Nick Naylor, uber-flack for the tobacco industry, played by Aaron Eckhard with a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin. The movie sets you up to root for the spinmeister as he talks his way out of jams in board meetings and press conferences, and charms talk show audiences, elementary school kids, a congressional hearing, and his hero-worshipping young son. Our trickster anti-hero outsmarts santimonious opponents including Senator Finisterre, a sourpuss Vermont legislator whose birkenstock sandals and desk covered in maple syrup flasks (everyone is bought, the question is who’s paying the bill); Finisterre’s hapless nerdy aide; and an attractive, conscience-free journalist who will do anything to get an expose (played by Katie Holmes in a fine display of starlet non-acting).
The best part of the movie is the sharp script, adapted from Christopher Buckley’s novel. The second best part is Aaron Eckhart’s pr guy who can charm almost anyone into believing that smoking is a statement for personal freedom. The third best is are the sets and setup; the sinister burger joint, with leatherette benches and toxic-looking burgers fries and pies, where Naylor meets his counterparts in the alcohol and firearms pr; the black man in pink suits who put the coffin of Robert Duval’s tobacco executive in the ground, leaving him with one last mint julep (evil and entitled to the end); the wood paneling and styrofoam ceiling in Naylor’s office.
In trickster stories, you root for the clever, glib bad guy, and he is run out of town in the end. You know he’s going to come back; there is an endless tension between smug authority figures and wily, anarchic rebels. The filmmakers leave the trickster triumphant. The moral promoted by Naylor — and by the director in the DVD aftermatter — is a libertarian message to “think for yourself.” And I think that libertarians are played like fiddles by corporatists who use the rhetoric of enterprise and individual freedom to promote policies that make the world a lot worse (global warming, anyone). I liked the movie, and would rather see the trickster in his customary place.

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