Disney+ UK film review: Thank You for Smoking
Ivan | On 12, Mar 2018
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, Kim Dickens, Cameron Bright, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, William H Macy
Watch Thank You for Smoking online in the UK: Disney+ / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“Is your mum a doctor? Then she’s hardly what we would call a credible expert.” That’s Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), tobacco lobbyist, father and slick public speaker dismantling yet another opponent’s argument with arrogant, pithy wit. The fact that his opponent is a child in a classroom is just by the by. And so the tone is set for Thank You for Smoking, a searingly dark satire that huffs, puffs and blows its way through a wickedly funny 90 minutes.
Naylor spends his days trying to convince people that smoking tobacco doesn’t cause lung disease – or, at least, that the clearly scientific evidence that it does may not be entirely conclusive. It’s a fool’s errand, but Naylor has a knack for making fools of other people, his moral in life being that if you can make someone else the loser, you win the argument by default. By night, he hooks up with a journalist, Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) for drinks while she writes a profile of him. And on weekends, he tries to be a role model for his son, Joey (Cameron Bright), who lives with his ex-wife (Fear the Walking Dead’s Kim Dickens).
It’s a tricky moral path to navigate, and Jason Reitman’s script – based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel – enjoys playing with our perception of such notions as freedom of speech, the right to choose and the trustworthiness of modern media and giant corporations. It’s a masterclass in spin, one that repeatedly pits Nick against people who clearly undermine his life choices, from JK Simmons as his snarling boss and the uncaring “Captain” of the “Academy for Tobacco Studies” (Robert Duvall) to a superbly downbeat Sam Elliott as the original Marlboro Man, whose health has taken a serious dive. All the while, he repeatedly faces challenges from a Vermont Senator (William H Macy) determined to get “poison” labels stuck on all cigarette packs.
If that sounds like a lot of balls to juggle, you’re not wrong, and Thank You for Smoking just about manages to keep them in the air. That’s partly thanks to its speedy runtime, with Reitman racing through witty set pieces and wrapping it all in a darkly ironic voiceover (and some playful opening credits). But while this should be the directorial debut to put Reitman on the map, it’s best viewed as a showcase for a star-making performance from Aaron Eckhart.
Eckhart picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his pitch-perfect turn, which invites sympathy for his would-be family man, even as he keeps giving us reasons to dislike him. Death threats and a genuine sense of affection for his son humanise him, while he never fails to deliver a deadpan zinger – the scenes in which he meets up for lunches with his fellow “Merchants of Death” (lobbyists for the alcohol and firearms industries, played flawlessly by Maria Bello and David Koechner) are a twisted delight. A cameo from Rob Lowe as movie product placement guru, meanwhile, almost walks away with the whole show.
The result is a dizzying dissection of spin in a political, commercialised age, and a calling card for Eckhart, who delivers a criminal amount of fun, no filters.
Thank You for Smoking is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.