You for Smoking
“Nick Naylor does not hide the truth...he filters
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification
is L -- limited
adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would
The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted.
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
FILM SYNOPSIS: "Thank
You for Smoking" is a trenchant black comedy based on Christopher
Buckley's 1994 novel, which purports to show the ends to which
the multibillion-dollar business will go to keep the public buying
their carcinogenic product.
Satire is all but lost as an art form. It tends to be found in
the more immediate medium of television (like Comedy Central’s
The Daily Show) rather than in film. Even the low budget satire,
Thank You for Smoking, took twelve years to move from the novel
by Christopher Buckley to the film written and directed by Jason
Reitman. Even though it doesn’t fully live up to its potential,
I’m glad this politically incorrect political satire finally
made it to the screen.
Thank You for Smoking is the story of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart),
a spokesman for “Big Tobacco.” In voice-over narrative,
Nick describes himself as “the most hated man in America.”
It’s easy to see why. He outrages just about everyone by
unashamedly defending the tobacco lobby in the media and in public
appearances. For example, while speaking at his son’s school,
he challenges a girl who says that her Mommy told her smoking
kills people. “Is your Mommy a doctor? A scientist? A researcher?”
asks Nick. When the girl answers negatively, he responds, “Then
she’s not really an authority, is she?” It would be
easier to dismiss Nick if he was some rude, disgusting, or stupid
man. But he is charming, witty, young, and handsome. Nick has
a spin doctor’s knack for disarming every opponent with
a condescending smile on his face. As he tells his son, he doesn’t
have to prove that his position is right. He only has to prove
that the other position is false.
best moments of Thank You for Smoking involve Nick’s frequent
dinners with his cohorts from the “MOD Squad:” a woman
representing the Alcohol Lobby, and a man representing the Gun
Lobby. They form a kind of politically incorrect support group.
In one scene, they actually argue over which product kills more
people! The film is at its best during these well written and
acted scenes. In addition, there are other clever moments including
the scenes with the great actor Robert Duvall as the defiant head
of a tobacco company who takes Nick under his wing.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to sustain the cleverness of the
satire, even for the brief 90 minute duration of the film. It
is uneven, and even it becomes sentimental at the end. Does Nick
really change, or is it just more spin? After years of neglect,
Nick also tries to mend his relationship with his twelve year
old son. In these scenes, the film loses the sharpness of its
satire and looks like many other family comedy-dramas starring
anyone from Tom Cruise to Adam Sandler.
At its best, Thank You for Smoking is a send up of spin doctors
and media-savvy people doing anything and everything they can
to manipulate a gullible public. In a good move, the film even
shows the “Good Guys” (e.g. William H. Macy as Vermont
Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre trying to prosecute the tobacco
industry) using the same spin tactics as our anti-hero Nick. It’s
to the credit of writer-director Reitman that I actually found
myself rooting for the smiling, confident Nick over Finistirre
who, despite his own efforts at spin, constantly comes across
and self-righteous and befuddled.
I found myself wondering where the Dominican motto of Veritas
fits in to this scenario. What does this have to do with those
of us who are preachers of the truth? Thank You for Smoking is
a caution against the inauthentic spin doctors of the world, who
care little for truth and the common good. As preachers, we must
be authentic witnesses of the Gospel if we have any chance of
influencing anyone else. At the same time, we cannot be so naive
as to discount the influence of spin and the media, as demonstrated
by the hapless Senator Finistirre. I think Dominic would want
us to study media, communication, and even popular culture if
we are to stand a chance against the Nick Naylor’s of the
world. Otherwise, we, along with the Truth we profess, will seem
more and more obsolete in a world spinning out of control.
Tom Condon, OP
As preachers, we must be authentic
witnesses of the Gospel if we have any chance of influencing anyone