One of the best movies to enjoy is one that is “little known” (those that few caught on its release and languished on the second page of box office money lists) or little-remembered (no one recalls it even though they’ve seen it). Over the past decade or so, I’ve not paid as much attention to Hollywood for obvious reasons – lack of creativity resulting in idiotic “reboots;” a general spectrum of ignorance; and the nauseating political correctness of knee-jerk, dumbass entertainers. For myself, I hadn’t heard anything or remember seeing any of the marketing about “Thank You for Smoking” when it was released in early 2006 after making its debut at a film festival in Canada in the fall of 2005. Bad move. When I finally saw it on DVD, it instantly made my top 10 list of all-time favorite films. It’s a tour-de-force for Aaron Eckhart and simply a pleasure to watch. It not only is fun, but it has an intelligent story that is wonderfully written and better acted – with one exception.
‘Thank You for Smoking’
(2006; 92 minutes; rated R; directed by Jason Reitman and starring Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright and Maria Bello)
HE CAN SELL ANYTHING … AND DOES!
(NOTE: I expanded this review, added links and corrected some misspellings on Sept. 24, 2015. I further reorganized and expanded the review with more opinion, trivia and the updating of links on Feb. 27, 2019.)
From the very start, Aaron Eckhart is the Energizer Bunny in “Thank You for Smoking,” a film about modern public relations and product marketing framed through the main spokesperson who shills for the tobacco industry. If he isn’t coming out on top on a panel discussion which includes a teenage lung cancer victim to talking to his son’s school class to a quick verbal destruction of his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Eckhart as “Nick Naylor” is affable, engaging, smart and energetic.
Without any doubt, you’d like to be his friend and he’s on everybody’s invitation list for New Year’s Eve – that is, if they want their party to seriously rock.
Eckhart, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work here, wrings every ounce possible out of the “Nick Naylor” character with outstanding scenes with fellow members of MOD (Masters of Destruction — the PR reps of tobacco, alcohol and guns); with Robert Duvall, who plays a tobacco company founder called “The Captain;” and with Rob Lowe as “Jeff Megall,” the icy-smooth, no-ethics leader of a powerful Hollywood talent agency who can get stars to smoke on screen for money while dealing with genocidal dictators without blinking an eye.
However, the best supporting actor working here is – no surprise – William H. Macy as the stuck-up, egotistical U.S. Sen. “Ortolan Finistirre,” whose mission in life is to stamp out cigarettes. The film would be even better if these two were onscreen together longer (maybe even notched an Oscar nomination instead of two for Golden Globes – Eckhart and for best comedy or musical). Still, Macy makes it look all too easy.
Now, to expand on some comments about the main cast …
- Eckhart also played a “Nick” in 1999 in “Any Given Sunday” with Al Pacino. That time he was “Nick Crozier,” a coach, and he didn’t have much to work with. His career has gotten busier since “Smoking” and he’s in what looks to be a “reboot” of the big-screen spectacle film about World War II with “Midway” (click here for my review of the original). He has also been in “Battle Los Angeles” and “Olympus Has Fallen.” You probably most recognize him as “Harvey Dent” in “The Dark Knight” from two years after “Thank You for Smoking.”
- An Oscar nominee for “Fargo,” Macy does his usual exceptional turn in his few scenes, but unfortunately isn’t given the chance to do much direct fencing with Eckhart. That’s a big disappointment, but, then again, you can probably focus too much on such a pairing. You’ll also remember Macy’s work in “Boogie Nights” with Burt Reynolds and I found him at his powerful best in a pair of dark, dark dramas – “Panic” with Donald Sutherland and Neve Campbell (click here for my review) and “The Cooler” with Bello.
- While Macy is the best supporting actor, the best interpersonal effort is by Eckhart in his interplay with his son “Joey Naylor,” played by Cameron Bright. Eckhart peaks in the extended scene where he teaches the boy how any side can be proven right in a debate by not being correct in the debate, but proving the other side wrong. Bright continues to make his way in Hollywood, following up his “Smoking” turn with roles in three “Twilight” films and is another with a credit for “Juno.”
As for the MOD Squad, the group is rounded out by the ever-wonderful Maria Bello as “Polly Bailey,” who is the spokeswoman for the alcohol industry, and the under-appreciated comedian-actor-writer David Koechner as “Bobby Jay Bliss,” who is the spokesman for the firearms industry. Both give nearly equal performances to Macy, and make sure the film doesn’t stumble on the subplot level.
- A two-time Golden Globe nominee (not for this one), Bello is pretty much understated in a relatively small role for an actor with her resume. I don’t know if the character could have been expanded, but Bello is solid here. She has had a varied career in both TV and feature films including “ER,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” and “Auto Focus.” Bello’s most critically acclaimed performance and one nomination came in 2003’s “The Cooler” with Macy … it’s another of those “best-you’ve-never-seen” films. She was also simply terrific and got her second nomination for “A History of Violence” with Viggo Mortensen (click here for my review).
- Koechner, a “Saturday Night Live” veteran, is very convincing as the spokesman for firearms. He’s just relaxed enough with an undercurrent of energy that he was perfect casting for this one. Koechner is extremely prolific in his career, which began in 1995. By early in 2019, he had 179 and counting. He has a great comedy pedigree as a veteran of Chicago’s Second City troupe, along with TV’s iconic SNL and films like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and its sequel; “The Dukes of Hazzard” (click here for my review); and a sidesplitting quickie in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (click here for my review). He survived the execrable “Dirty Work” (click here for my review) from Norm McDonald and he’s also done classy TV with episodes of “Monk” and the Chuck Lorre personal-fave “Dharma & Greg.”
I’ve already noted that Duvall and Lowe are in this one, but I must write that they have but a few lines – especially for an actor of Robert’s stature – and each delivers every syllable perfectly. I don’t know if either would fit in better with more screen time, but there’s no argument that they are a cut-above the tiny roles each plays.
Other supporting work of note …
- Kim Dickens plays Eckhart’s former wife “Jill Naylor.” Again, here’s a character not given enough room to maneuver, but Dickens manages to make sure it isn’t a complete waste – and that earns her a positive grade. Dickens has been in movies including “The Blind Side” and “Gone Girl” as well as a variety of work on television. Less notable, she was in the awful remake of “Footloose.”
- Rounding out the notable supporting cast is veteran character actor and 2019 Oscar nominee Sam Elliott. He plays “Lorne Lutch,” who is called the original “Marlboro Man” in tobacco ads (the ad name is accurate; Lorne Lutch is a character). Elliott is dying of lung cancer and Eckhart is trying to buy his silence with a briefcase full of money. Elliott, with his signature deep voice, gives an emotional turn and the part was just a little too small for critical acclaim. Elliott didn’t win for “A Star is Born,” but he certainly adds class to any film. Elliott was the narrator of the classic “The Big Lebowski” and also did such varied roles in films like “Tombstone,” “Road House” and “Mask” as well as dozens of roles on TV series and in TV movies, including “Draft Day” (click here for my review).
The only discordant note in the movie is that filmmakers could have cast virtually any other actor than Katie Holmes to play the role of the back-stabbing reporter “Heather Holloway” and the film would have been better. However, we’re stuck with a wooden performance from an actor with only second-tier ability – and “second-tier” is high praise for her ability. Anyone else would have been able to make something of the character – and not just allow it to languish, wither and be almost instantly forgotten. Holmes has been in … ah, who cares? I don’t. Ask me some other time.
Now, back to the plot of the movie …
The film takes nasty detour when Eckhart is kidnapped and attacked by having dozens of nicotine patches put on his body and is nearly killed. However, this allows Koechner to deliver a great scene showing Eckhart’s son his handgun that he has doing concealed carry.
In the end, of course, Eckhart manages to turn the tables on his opponents then squares off against Macy in a Congressional hearing. He rebounds, of course, and the ending that shows his next PR career is prophetic.
Somewhat lost amid the great acting is the great job done by director Jason Reitman. “Thank You for Smoking” was his first film in the director’s chair and it obviously revealed his talent. He followed it up with the Oscar-winning “Juno.” Unfortunately, at the writing of the 2019 expansion of this review, Reitman is listed on IMDb.com as being associated with a “reboot” of the sci-fi comedy classic “Ghostbusters.” Sigh.
“Thank You for Smoking” is one you (might) have never heard of, so do yourself a favor and watch it.
In a prime example of how the movie-going public doesn’t know much about great films, “Thank You for Smoking” was ranked 103rd with $24.7 million at theaters in 2006, according to Box Office Mojo. It was made on a budget of $10 million, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” with $423.3 million. Other films I’ve reviewed from that year include:
- “Blood Diamond” (sensational) – click here for my review
- “The Departed” (even better than sensational) – click here for my review
- “Grandma’s Boy” (very funny stoner flick) – click here for my review
- “V for Vendetta” (excellent drama) – click here for my review
Here are some cast and film notes (details from IMDb.com):
- Eckhart’s boss is played by Oscar winner (not for this one) J.K. Simmons, that Farmers Insurance He has great facial expressions; the perfect voice; and is just the right bit smarmy as the corporate villain. It’s a small role, but he knows his craft. Simmons won for xxxx and was simply terrible in the even worse “The Jackal” (click here for my review).
- Directly from IMDb.com: “As part of the message the movies promotes, no one is shown smoking a cigarette throughout the entire movie. In fact, except in the black and white film that Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) watches, no one is seen even holding a cigarette. Naylor holds an empty packet and The Captain (Robert Duvall) holds an (unlit) cigar.”
- Eckhart was cast in “The Dark Knight” because of his work in “Thank You for Smoking.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The rifle that Lutch aims at Nick was Sam Elliott‘s personal Winchester Model 1894 that Elliott had brought with him.”
- OK, I like Duane “The Rock” Johnson (check out the reboot of “Baywatch” – click here for my review – or, in a much better effort from him, try “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” – click here for my review). However, he was considered for the “Nick Naylor” part and I can say he would have come up way short of Eckhart’s effort. Sorry, Duane, but this one wasn’t for you!
- Actor, comic and social commentator Dennis Miller has a cameo as himself.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Sam Elliott‘s character Lorne Lutch is based on real “Marlboro Man” model Wayne McLaren, who contracted lung cancer, testified for anti-smoking legislation, and had the Phillip Morris Company try to deny he was in the ads. Two other models – David McLean and Dick Hammer – also died of lung cancer. A fourth, Eric Lawson, died of respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, at the age of 72 in 2014.”
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