Smoking is good for you. It can help you live to be 100 years old. All of the best doctors do it. At least, so boasts a series of imitation-vintage cigarette ads in writer/director Jason Reitman's "Thank You for Smoking." Actually, the movie has very little to do with smoking. Based on Christopher Buckley's best-selling novel, the film takes a highly satirical look at spin, a tactic used in public relations that employs biased research and manipulative jargon to make a point in one's favor. Reveling in politically incorrect humor, Reitman takes no prisoners in his debut feature that tackles everything from political hypocrisy to baby seals.
Aaron Eckhart has the role of his career as Nick Naylor, a Washington lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Nick is an expert at his job, using his smoldering charisma and unparalleled wit to quash an attempt by a liberal senator (William H. Macy) to have cigarettes labeled as poison. More than anything, Nick absolutely loves his job. Between making fools of timid political representatives on "The Joan Lunden Show" and charming reporters with his wicked smile, he spends his time eating fried food with the rest of the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) squad, which includes fellow lobbyists Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner—guns) and Polly Bailey (Maria Bello—alcohol). Their morals are so astoundingly "flexible" (as Nick describes them) that they spend their time comparing death tolls for their respective special interests.
Away from the fast-talking political world, Nick tries to be a good father to his 12-year-old son, Joey (Cameron Bright). Against ex-wife Jill's (Kim Dickens) wishes, he takes Joey on business trips in hopes of teaching him the power of argument and rhetoric to win people over. The two start to bond as Joey picks up his father's uncanny way with words, but he is also exposed to the uglier side of lobbyism when Nick receives death threats on national TV. Things are further complicated when Nick becomes involved with a sexy reporter (Katie Holmes), who plans to nail him in more ways than one.
In addition to Eckhart's pitch-perfect work, "Thank You for Smoking" overflows with sparkling performances from an ensemble cast of dream actors. Robert Duvall is quite funny and touching as "The Captain," head of the Big Tobacco company who has a way with mint juleps. Rob Lowe gives a deadpan comic performance as a corporate Hollywood mogul with a fetish for Asian culture, and Adam Brody is hysterical as his assistant. Particularly memorable is Sam Elliott as the cancer-stricken Marlboro man, adding a touch of pathos to this razor-sharp comedy.
Jason Reitman's screenplay hits all the right notes for good satire, never letting up on anyone but avoiding the mean-spiritedness that plagues so many comedies. The son of noted director Ivan Reitman, Jason has certainly made his presence known with this edgy and sophisticated movie. In one fell swoop, he has managed to surpass almost everything his father has directed (with the possible exception of "Ghostbusters"), emerging as a major talent to watch for. His visual style is arresting and original without calling too much attention to itself. Making the film independently on a very small budget, Reitman manages to give it a remarkably polished look that conceals its tight production values. The film is a laugh riot from beginning to end with something to please everyone on all sides—the perfect libertarian flick.
Released on DVD via 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, "Thank You for Smoking" is preserved in its original 2.40:1 widescreen ratio in an anamorphic transfer. Colors are beautifully saturated throughout, enhancing the bold lighting and photography. Black levels are deep and rich, providing a good depth to each frame and bringing out the shadows. I noticed some slight compression artifacting in places, but it was mostly negligible. The picture exhibited some softness at times as well, but for the most part it was crisp and clear.
Audio comes to us in a 5.1 Dolby Surround mix that does an adequate job. Background noises and ambience are nicely distributed around the back speakers. Dialogue and voices were not as clear as they could have been, sounding a little muffled. I didn't notice any distortion or hiss, but overall it was a little disappointing. A Spanish surround track is also provided, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
A pair of audio commentaries starts off the bonus features. The first is a solo effort from Jason Reitman. He seems very at ease as he relays anecdotes and humorous observations throughout, making this an entertaining listen. Actors Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner join Reitman on the second track. Reitman covers much of the same turf here as he did on the first one, and Eckhart, who talks his head off in the movie, is curiously silent, but Koechner lets loose and provides the most fun on this one.
A slew of deleted scenes follow, including an alternate ending, all with optional commentary by Reitman.
Up next is an episode of "The Charlie Rose Show," with guests Jason Reitman, Aaron Eckhart, author Christopher Buckley and producer David O. Sacks promoting the movie. At roughly 18 minutes, the episode contains some nice background information, especially from Buckley, about the book and its translation to film.
"Unfiltered Comedy: The Making of Thank You for Smoking" is a nine-minute featurette boasting interviews with Reitman and several cast members. This is followed by the five-minute "America: Living in Spin," with similar interviews. Both featurettes are fun, if fluffy.
After this, we get a series of still galleries, including a poster art gallery and a hilarious art department gallery, with close-up views of the clever cigarette ads that were created for the movie. An extensive storyboard gallery is included as well.
Finally, some promotional material caps off this release, with a theatrical trailer and a spot for the soundtrack.
Jason Reitman's "Thank You for Smoking" is a must-see comedy—one of the best of the year. In an overly PC society, it is refreshing to see a movie that dares to poke fun at everything that everyone else is afraid to. The ultimate message of the movie is not about lying to get your way, but about bluntly stating the unfiltered truth. People can twist facts and information all they want, but it is common sense that is most effective in the end. Do yourself a big favor and pick up this DVD. It is delicious and satisfying, but unlike cigarettes, it is not habit-forming.