Dir. Jason Reitman. US.2005. 92mins.
First-time director JasonReitman pulls off the miraculous feat of creating a single-issue comedy thatretains its freshness and drive throughout with his satire Thank You ForSmoking.
It's a bristling, wickedlysmart portrait of a lobbyist named Nick Naylor (Eckhart), who makes his living orrather, in the running motif that excuses all, "pays the mortgage" - by nimblydefending the tobacco industry on TV and before the US Congress asvice-president of the Academy of Tobacco Studies.
Like most of us, Reitman(and novelist Christopher Buckley, on whose novel the film is based) hasobviously wondered how someone could keep a straight face (and conscience)while actively propagandising for the morally indefensible. But instead of justshaking his head in bemused disbelief, he has constructed a hilarious, fast-movingSwiftian satire that skewers all in its path.
Reitman ultimately ends uptaking on all of contemporary American culture, and while it's difficult toknow whether its delicious specificity will allow it to travel, the film shouldbe a big indie hit in the US.
A fierce bidding war erupted over the film after its Toronto world premiere and both Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Classics are claiming that they won the rights. Content Film Internationalpreviously secured deals with the IndieCircle group for Italy, France, Beneluxand Switzerland, and with Scanbox for Scandinavia.
One of the great thingsabout Thank You For Smoking is how, by the end of the film, no one hasbeen permitted any self-righteous smugness. While Reitman reserves his sharpestbarbs for Nick Naylor, his anti-smoking opponent, Vermont senator OrtolanFinistirre (Macy), is himself a master manipulator of "kids with cancer".
There's an unholy MoD(Merchants of Death) squad that includes Naylor, a gun lobbyist (Koechner), andan apologist for the drinks industry (Bello) who convene regularly to sharestrategies.
There's also a tobacco barondying of emphysema (Duvall), a Hollywood producer obsessed with Japaneseculture (Lowe), an investigative reporter (Holmes) who works her feminine wilesto wangle secrets from Nick and, above all, Nick's 10-year-old son (Bright),the focal point for the film's moral dilemmas. Cameos by US TV personalitiesJoan Lunden and Dennis Miller add to the inside-joke fun.
Reitman, the son of veterandirector Ivan, knows how to inject new twists in the plot when thingsoccasionally threaten to become bogged down, and the brilliant dialogueprovides yeoman service in keeping the film cheerily afloat. Nick's voice-over,usually accompanied by a freeze-frame, is similarly well constructed and alwayssnappily delivered.
He is also handy with visualsthat efficiently sum up a character or a situation in a single gesture, likethe senator's desk which is crowded with bottles of Vermont maple syrup.
Characters are crisplycreated and always sufficiently individualised enough to ensure that the potentiallybroad and clumsy brush of satire never obscures nor flattens.
The acting is first-classacross the board: Eckhart is especially successful at coming up with a greatenough variety of facial movement to keep audiences from tiring of his constantpresence.
It's clear that directorReitman has set the metronome ticking at a furious pace: at times therapier-like one-liners come so fast and furious that you find yourself stiflinglaughs so that you don't miss anything.
Perhaps most surprising ofall, Reitman doesn't content himself with merely exploring all the possiblepermutations on a single comic premise, but seems to be interested - albeitwith the lightest of touches - in investigating the real moral dilemmas thatsurround issues of freedom, consumer choice, and the ticklish business ofdeciding for others what's best for them.
While Thank You ForSmoking is decidedly a film for liberals, they won't feel entirelycomfortable with the way they're portrayed. And that, whatever your politicalaffiliation, can only be a good thing.
Room 9 Entertainment
Content Film International
US and internationaldistribution (most)
Edward R Pressman
David O Sacks
Dana E Glauberman
William H Macy