Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in a long, long time. In fact, I haven't enjoyed a movie this much since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and since that currently stands as my favorite movie (and a near-perfect 21 on the 22 scale), that's saying something.

Because of this, I won't be able to give you the shrewd, critical breakdown you've come to expect from Dr. Worm. Instead, I'll give you a brief plot synopsis, and then I'll gush about the movie in the hopes that you run out and rent it--it's video release is today, October 3rd--as soon as you finish reading this review.

Thank You For Smoking follows the life of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist and the public face of Big Tobacco. Given that fact, you might expect to spend the movie hating him. Oddly enough, you don't. You don't particularly like him, but you don't hate him either. You keep waiting to find that moment to hate him, and it never comes.

Which is good, since Nick Naylor's career is based on turning hate into like. He spins, he twists, and he maneuvers so beautifully that you hardly know he's doing it--the mark of a master. The opening scene is telling here: He's appearing on a talk show with three anti-tobacco advocates and a boy who got cancer from cigarette smoke. The movie shows us a few still shots of audience members' faces contorted with hate at the sight of Naylor. But within two minutes, he has the audience on his side and he's high-fiving cancer boy.

The plot, following a few weeks in the life of Nick Naylor, actually moves in a few different directions at once (which makes sense, since people usually deal with a few different matters in their lives simultaneously). In one, he's engaged in a battle of rhetoric with Vermont Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre (William H. Macy) over the senator's proposition to put a comically graphic skull and crossbones image on cigarette packages. In another, he's talking with super agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) about a plan to improve the public of image of cigarettes by having actors smoke in movies. In still another, he's talking to/boinking reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), who is working on a feature story about him. In another--and the best--subplot, he's bringing his 12-year-old son Joey (Cameron Bright) along to work with him, putting him in the delightfully awkward position of having to be a good role model for Joey while simultaneously twisting the truth to get people to smoke cigarettes.

There are even more elements to this somewhat crowded plot, but there's no need for me to share all of them with you here. You're not going to see the movie for the plot.

The acting in the movie is on the whole above average, with Aaron Eckhart especially acting like he was born to play his role. His performance especially cannot be overstated, because if he sucked, the movie would suck. And as I said before, this movie doens't suck. William H. Macy, Cameron Bright, Rob Lowe, and Adam Brody (as Rob Lowe's assistant) all turn in above average supporting performances. Really, there are just two blemishes in the cast. Robert Duvall gave a rather strained performance as Doak Boykin, aka "The Captain"--the patriarch of Big Tobacco. And nearly any other actress would have been an improvement over Katie Holmes, who was given a role where she basically just had to be hot and enticing and didn't even pull that off properly.

But you're not going to see the movie for the acting either. You're going for the spin. The delicious, scintillating, captivating, joy-inducing spin. Oh, that wonderful spin. And this movie is full of it. Thank You For Smoking is a satire, yes, but not of the tobacco industry. It's a satire of spin. And not just lobbyists' and politicians' and talking heads' spin. Everyone's spin. My spin. Your spin.

"Wait a minute," you may be saying, "I'm just some guy (or some girl, as the case may be). I don't use spin."

Yes you do. We all do. Spin isn't necessarily lying, or even stretching the truth. It's just presenting information in such a way as to make yourself look good, or to make another look bad. And yes, you definitely do that.

But so do I, and so does everyone else. And it's absoluely, positively fascinating to watch people do it when you know what's going on. And since Thank You For Smoking is pretty much 90-minutes of spin--and a very clever and funny movie on top of that--it too is absolutely, positively fascinating to watch.

I give this movie a 17, but I'll be up front: I don't know that it's that good. I just know that's how much I liked it. But I also have a weird preoccupation with noting how people phrase things. So I probably liked it more than you will. But the two people I saw it with gave it a 12, and I think that's a pretty fair predictor of how much you'll enjoy this movie. In any case, just see it. You definitely won't be disappointed.


Particle Man said...

oh serioisly, Dr. Worm. can Katie Holmes NOT be hot? i mean, come on!

Dr. Worm said...

Yes, Particle Man. Katie Holmes can be not hot. She can also be sort of weird and off-putting.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Is it just me, or did I not see any actual cigarette smoking in the film?

P.S. Katie Holmes is lukewarm at her best; in Thank You for Smoking she is far from being at her best.

Dr. Worm said...

You're absolutely correct, Moshe, that there's no cigarette smoking in the film. Eckhart's character attempts to have a smoke at one point, but finds that he's out of cigarettes. And there's a (rightly) deleted scene where his son goes to light up a cigarette and Eckhart slaps it out of his mouth. But you're right, there's no cigarette smoking at all in the film, and I don't think that's an accident.

And thanks for backing me up, Moshe. Just to reiterate: Katie Holmes sucks.