One of the best movies to enjoy is one that is “little known” (those few caught on its release) or little-remembered (no one recalls it even though they’ve seen it). For myself, I hadn’t heard anything or remember seeing any of the marketing about “Thank You for Smoking” back in 2006. Bad move. It instantly made being one of my top 10 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 acted.
‘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
(NOTE: I expanded this review, added links and corrected some misspellings on Sept. 24, 2015.)
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 person 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 party list for New Year’s Eve if they want everyone to have a good time.
Eckhart, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work here, wrings every ounce possible out of the 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 the tobacco company founder called “The Captain;” and with Rob Lowe, the icy-smooth no-ethics leader of a talent agency.
However, the best supporting actor working here is – no surprise – William H. Macy as the stuck-up, egotistical U.S. senator whose mission in life is to stamp out cigarettes. Macy does his usual exceptional turn, but unfortunately isn’t given the chance to do much direct fencing with Eckhart. 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).
While Macy is the best supporting actor, the best interpersonal effort is by Eckhart in his interplay with his son, 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. The ever-wonderful Maria Bello and comedian-actor-writer David Koechner round out the MOD squad with Eckhart and, nearly give nearly equal performances to Macy, and make sure the film doesn’t stumble on the subplot level.
The only discordant note in the movie is that filmmakers could have cast virtually any other actress than Katie Holmes to play the role of the back-stabbing reporter, but we’re stuck with a wooden performance from an actor with only second-tier ability. Anyone else would have had the talent to make something of the character – and not just allow it to languish, wither and be almost instantly forgotten.
Rounding out the notable supporting cast is veteran character actor Sam Elliott, who 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.
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. Still, he 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.
“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:
- The dark drama “Blood Diamond” (click here for my review)
- The dark and seriously violent “The Departed” (click here for my review)
- The stoner cult classic “Grandma’s Boy” (click here for my review)
Here are some cast and film notes (details from IMDb.com):
- Eckhart 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.”
- Eckhart’s boss is played by 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. Simmons is currently in filming of “Terminator: Genesis” set for release in 2015 and was in such films as “Spider-Man” and two sequels, “The Cider House Rules” and the simply terrible “The Jackal” (click here for my review).
- 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. He’s currently in the just-released “Draft Day” (click here for my review), playing a coach.
- Bello 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 came in 2003’s “The Cooler” with Macy … it’s another of those “best-you’ve-never-seen” films. She was also terrific in “A History of Violence” with Viggo Mortensen (click here for my review).
- Koechner, a “Saturday Night Live” veteran, is extremely prolific in his career, which began in 1995 and now has 129 credits. He has a great comedy pedigree as a veteran of Chicago’s Second City troupe, along with SNL and films like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and its sequel; “The Dukes of Hazzard;” and a sidesplitting quickie in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (click here for my review). He did a “Love Boat: The Next Wave,” but it doesn’t count as a real effort on “The Love Boat” (and I won’t give you a link to the crappy remake series, but you can click here for my take on the original). 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-favorite “Dharma & Greg.”
- Bright continues to make his way in Hollywood, following up his “Smoking” turn with roles in three “Twilight” films and with “Juno.”
- Funnyman and social commentator Dennis Miller has a cameo as himself.
- Eckhart also played a “Nick” in “Any Given Sunday” with Al Pacino. That time he was “Nick Crozier,” a coach. He’s done a one or two films a year since “Smoking” and was in 2014’s “I, Frankenstein” and three titles set for release in 2015.
- 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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