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Thank You For Smoking (2005)

by on 2013/08/25

Thank You For Smoking (2005)
“A brilliant training video for complex sales negotiations.”

– Grushenka Geusebach

* * * *

Holy, er, smoke . . . this is an ass-kicking film, by which I mean it’s very, very good.

Scripted and directed by Ivan Reitman’s son Jason – his first feature film no less – it’s based on the novel Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley.

It stars an impressive cast of character actors, including Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Robert Duvall, Aaron Eckhart, Sam Elliott, Melora Hardin, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, Todd Louisa, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Dennis Miller, and J.K. Simmons.

Though a constant tobacco industry tug-of-war is waged between two sides of the political spectrum, the core of this telling is the relationship between a single father (Eckhart) and his distant son, played by the astoundingly effective Cameron Bright of X-Men: The Last Stand. Our anti-hero uses brutal honesty to shock and succeed in his job, then employs it more candidly to connect with, and teach, his child.

It’s not quite as emotionally involving as you might expect from such a drama, but it’s clever – if you don’t mistake it for propaganda – and funny in a wry, amusing way. Essentially, it has many of the same pros and cons as Bob Roberts. They would make a great pair, with Smoking being the lighter half of the latter’s darker tone.

The story has depth, with multiple layers, successful as entertainment and for its subtext. It makes references to the history of (show) business, suggesting interesting ideas and tweaks to humorous effect. It skewers the modern industry and shows both how much and little has actually changed.

I was just as impressed with the technical side of the production. It toes the line of visual tricks without tripping into novelty: varied film stocks, blurring, freeze-framing, variable speeds, and nice transitions, like hidden wipes. Subtitles add some funny contradictions, while voice-overs are sparing but appropriate.

The unobtrusive score by Rolfe Kent (of Sideways fame) is punctuated by hilarious vintage songs extolling the dubious virtues of lighting up. Picks like the Mills Brothers’ “Smoke Rings” or Tex Williams’ “Smoke That Cigarette” add a jazzy, folksy, country, and quaint vibe.

All in all this was a cool experience, amusing and insightful, if not exactly transportational. It’s more ticklish than touching, but exemplary at that. Rare in being edifying, and proficient in its craft, Thank You for Smoking is Reitman’s giant leap, and worth a closer look.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

92 minutes

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