Thank You for Smoking (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie gets a lungful of the recent movie starring Aaron Eckhart...
Thank You for Smoking tells the story of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for Big Tobacco who has made it his mission in life to improve the public image of cigarettes. While his job makes him unlikeable in theory, he is blessed with a charm and quick wit that allows him to turn arguments on their head and shoot down his antagonists with ease. However, as he tries to build a relationship with his son and seal a big deal with a Hollywood studio, a reporter (Katie Holmes) enters his life and an anti-smoking senator (William H Macy) turns up the heat.
Based on the novel of the same name, you may be forgiven for thinking that Thank You for Smoking would be similar in theme and tone to Michael Mann’s The Insider. Nothing could be further from the truth. This isn’t a movie about the evils of tobacco or the journey of a lone hero blowing the whistle on an evil industry; it’s a movie about spin and the art of debating. Cigarettes just happen to be the device used to tell the story. As a satirical comedy, the story moves faster than many thrillers and the rapid-fire dialogue kept me gripped all the way through.
Aaron Eckhart inhabits the role of Nick Naylor like he was born to play it. It’s hard to imagine another actor offering the same combination of arrogance, charm and smugness, with the exception of Rob Lowe who shows up in a cameo appearance as Naylor’s kindred spirit. The relationship Nick shares with his son is very touching and the performance of the young Cameron Bright is spot-on. Nick explains the positive things about his job and we see his son develop the skills his father tries to pass on to him without brainwashing him into thinking smoking is a good thing. The supporting cast is great, in particular Maria Bello and David Koechner, although JK Simmons and William H Macy recycle the types of roles that have made them popular.
I’m a big fan of the art of debating and I love the way the story has been written. Everyone involved in Big Tobacco is shown as knowing that what they’re doing is wrong but they have fine-tuned their abilities to spin bad press in their favour to such an extent that they become the heroes, while the well-meaning senator is the bad guy of the movie. It’s written with a knowing wit and isn’t just a satire of the tobacco industry, but also makes cutting comments about Hollywood. When Nick visits the Hollywood executive played by Rob Lowe, we get a glimpse into how the studios work and director Jason Reitman mentions the similarity to reality on the commentary track.
It’s not all perfect though. I thought the comedy wasn’t always pitched at the right level, sometimes edging out of satire and into spoof territory with a couple of jokes that would be more at home in a Mel Brooks movie. I also thought Katie Holmes was out of place. For me, she doesn’t give her character a lot of depth and I find her squeaky voice grating. That may be superficial but it’s the honest effect she had on me and hey, it’s my opinion and it’s my review. If you’re a fan of Katie Holmes, I’m sure you’ll be happy to see her here.
As a satire, Thank You for Smoking makes a lot of cutting points and as a straight comedy it actually made me laugh out loud, which so many so-called comedies fail to do (I’m looking at you, Mr Sandler). The central performance by Aaron Eckhart is a tour de force and is certainly a highlight in his career. The screenplay is littered with inspired moments and Jason Reitman has also added his own into the mix, in particular the excellent opening titles and choice of old-time pro-smoking songs on the soundtrack.
Thank You for Smoking is very colourful, with most of the movie drenched in the gold tone that is synonymous with cigarette advertising. The colour and framing of the shots made me think it could have easily have been adapted from a graphic novel than a regular book. The 2.40:1 anamorphic picture is generally easy on the eye, although there is some edge enhancement on show (see the outline of Aaron Eckhart’s suit in the second screen shot) and backgrounds in wide shots can be a little blurry.
In this dialogue-heavy movie, it’s quite difficult to identify any moments that really impress but what we’ve got here does the job nicely. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (also available with audio description) is predictably free from any obvious interference and pitches the dialogue and music at the appropriate levels. When you watch Thank You for Smoking there aren’t any explosions going off around your living room to make you sit back in awe, but this is a movie about talking and you can be sure of hearing everyone clearly.
The disc opens with a marathon of trailers for Behind Enemy Lines 2, Severance, Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada, The Queen and Harsh Times. The theatrical trailer for the main feature is also available. Thirteen deleted scenes are presented with optional commentary by Jason Reitman, who explains why they were removed from the final cut. These scenes are rare in the sense that they’re actually worth watching. Most notable of all is the alternative ending, which changes the tone of the movie and alters the development of Naylor’s son and was left out for very good reasons.
Jason Reitman supplies a feature commentary, joined by Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner. The director and his actors obviously had great fun making the movie and their enthusiasm is reflected in their banter-filled commentary. They reveal plenty of details about how the actors came on board and Reitman points out many little moments and in-jokes that you might miss on the first viewing. ‘America: Living in Spin’ is a five-minute featurette that draws comparisons between the central theme of the movie and the powers-that-be in contemporary America. The ‘Making of’ featurette contains the usual TV-friendly mix of interviews and clips from the movie, although there isn’t any behind the scenes footage included here. There are also three galleries available: posters, storyboards and drawings of logos and props designed by the art department.
Thank You For Smoking is a very enjoyable movie and features a great central performance from Aaron Eckhart. In my opinion Jason Reitman is worth keeping an eye on and in this movie he demonstrates a similar sense of humour to that of his father. Some of the extras feel like filler but the entertaining commentary and deleted scenes are worthy of your time so I’d say this is definitely a disc comedy fans should pick up.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 8th January 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Deleted Scenes With Commentary, Unfiltered Comedy: The Making Of Thank You For Smoking, America: Living In Spin Featurette, Still Galleries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, JK Simmons, Maria Bello, David Koechner
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 88 minutes
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