Thank You For Smoking
This is the smartest, funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I love satire, and I have always liked stories about amoral rogues. This guy isn’t in the league of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but he’s a lobbyist, flack, and spin doctor for the tobacco industry, and he likes his work. He could sell ice to Eskimos, or convince you that fire is cold or water is dry. It’s the debate he loves. Ripley will kill you with guns and knives; Nick Naylor will destroy you with arguments. He’ll have you thanking him for your little case of lung cancer. And he’ll have fun doing it. The dialogue here is so sharp you can cut yourself listening to it, particularly between Nick and his only two friends: a lobbyist for guns and another for alcohol who call themselves the MOD (Merchants Of Death) Squad. I nearly died when I heard them arguing over just whose product was the deadliest. Nick takes considerable satisfaction that tobacco kills more than alcohol and guns combined.
Of course, a story like this has to have a moral, and I was prepared to groan when Nick saw the light and reformed. And of course it was going to be because of his son, who he loves but tries to instill with his own methods of debating, which essentially boil down to never answering your opponent’s arguments, but moving the question to something he can’t win. (Therefore, if he didn’t win, he lost, and if he lost, you won! QED! Even Karl Rove could learn a thing or two from Nick Naylor.)
… only it didn’t happen that way. I was delighted when it didn’t get all mushy at the end. Absolutely everybody in the PR game and in the Beltway game and the “journalism” games takes it up the ass here, and Nick walks away happy and unrepentant, still doing what he does best but for a different client.
The book this was based on is by Christopher Buckley, William F.’s son, which is a delicious thing to think about. We all know where he got his debating skills. And throughout a movie which is all about smoking, not a single cigarette is lit. How’s that for irony? A funny thing … the only other movie I can remember that is about smoking is Cold Turkey, starring Dick Van Dyke and directed by Norman Lear. It was hilarious and satiric, too, but in an entirely different way.