Thursday, October 26, 2006


Where there's smoke, there's satire

By Edward Copeland
While it admittedly is quite funny in parts, I found myself slightly disappointed once I finally got around to seeing Jason Reitman's writing-directing debut in Thank You for Smoking. It certainly has its moments and some really good performances, but it seems as if the film has been truncated in some way and some of its targets are so easy that it needed to raise the bar higher.

For the uninitiated, Thank You for Smoking adapts Christopher Buckley's satirical novel about a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, portrayed very well in the film by Aaron Eckhart, who may have landed his best role since he first popped up on the national film consciousness back in Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men. He's aided by a solid ensemble that includes Maria Bello and David Koechner as his fellow "merchants of death," their own term for their roles as lobbyists for the alcohol and gun industries, respectively; Sam Elliott in a small role as a dying Marlboro man; J.K. Simmons as Eckhart's boss; William H. Macy as an anti-tobacco senator; and Robert Duvall as the ornery head of the cigarette company. Somehow though, the film seems to lack a point of view and it isn't quite funny enough to make up for it.

Still, at barely more than an hour and a half long, it certainly proves watchable enough and most of the credit for that has to go to Eckhart who almost single-handedly provides the film with most of its momentum. He's a man who makes his living talking and his conviction as he espouses the cigarette industry's defense is great and makes up for a lot of what the film otherwise lacks.

Thankfully, the film doesn't feel the need to redeem his character by the end but at the same time, it seems more like a collection of skits than a fully developed story, especially with the added subplot of Eckhart's relationship with his son, played by Cameron Bright, the creepy kid from that mess of a movie Birth.

I didn't think Thank You for Smoking was a misfire, but perhaps my expectations for it were too high. The movie needed its own form of a cinematic nicotine kick.

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I on the other hand would go as far as to call it a misfire. It's an awfully misconceived movie, all about being hip and sassy and too cool to take a stand on any issue that's relevant to life. It has its funny moments yes, but they fit within a trailer. This is one of those movies where I honestly struggled to figure out in retrospect why it exists exactly - other than to convince indie audiences they are hipper and sassier than people who go to multiplexes.
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