Thank You For Smoking


It’s hard to spot a truly amoral movie. I was going to start by labelling Thank You For Smoking as an amoral film, but it’s occurred to me that there could well be morals that I agree with hiding in the cracks that I didn’t spot. So I’m hesitant to go around claiming such a thing, and instead focus on something reasonably related; Thank You For Smoking is very much about the finer points of argument, and not so much about who’s right. “That’s the beauty of argument,” says Naylor early on, “if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” In a way, this film is about everything that’s wrong with the world today.1

Nick Naylor is the chief spokesman for ‘big tobacco’, and is well-practiced at arguing the un-arguable and defending the indefensible. His mostly hilarious narration guides you through his many triumphs and his very few failures. In what should have been a major blunder both for his character and the film in general, he decides to take his son2 along on the job with him. Luckily however, the kid is both canny and well-acted. Watching him learn the tricks of the trade is all too convincing.

The star of the film however, is Aaron Eckhart’s Nick Naylor. The advantage of watching a film with such a charismatic anti-hero is that whichever way things end up, at least some part of you will be happy. It’s hard to root for the man who fools the ex-Marlborough Man into taking a bribe rather than striking a blow against the tobacco companies offering it. But Nick’s just so damn likeable, and treats his son so well…

In a world full of schoolboy-level satire, it’s hard to find a film that treats the viewer with some intelligence, and refrains from almost all the possible cheap shots. The script and direction are snappy, witty and usually hilarious, and are held up by an impressive supporting cast. Even Katie Holmes is quite good as a manipulative reporter, and Rob Lowe’s Hollywood bigwig is fantastic. As I mentioned before, those looking for a moral to the story may be disappointed. There’s only really one sentimental moment in the whole film, and it’s over so quickly you’re left wondering if it was even there.

After waves of (often endearingly) silly comedies from the USA, Thank You For Smoking is refreshingly clever. And like the best satire, it’s aimed not at individuals, but the systems of stupidity that have built up around them.

  1. Oh, fine, yes, after all the really bad stuff, like war, famine, disease, pestilence, religion and not enough flossing.
  2. Played by Cameron Bright, that creepy kid from Stargate, Birth and X-Men: The Last Stand. He’s the new ‘it’ boy. I hope he’s paying attention to Mr Joel Osmont’s recent fortunes.
My job requires a certain... moral flexibility. — Nick Naylor

One Response to “Thank You For Smoking”

  1. There were some morals that could be inferred from the film. While Nick Naylor worked for the cigarette companies and got away with it, he had to give up smoking, so now smoking is very bad for him. Several of the minor characters pointed out how dangerous tobacco is. Don’t openly debate bullshit artists. The anti-smoking lobbyists are equally as petty and short-sighted as the pro-smokers.

    The ending suggested to me that people should be free to do whatever they want, no matter how stupid, which is something Americans are keen on. Americans as a whole seem unwilling to accept the bad consequences of their actions though.