Friday, January 19, 2007

Now Playing: Thank You For Smoking

About 10 minutes into Jason Reitman's brilliant Thank You For Smoking I was gasping for air on account of how hard I was laughing. After seeing this I've become even more disenchanted with the usual bluster of awards talk because none of the Best Actor discussions I've seen have brought in Aaron Eckhart for his potrayal of Nick Naylor. Per the norm, at least several brilliant performances go ignored by the Academy and I could see the Oscars completely passing Eckhart over and that is a huge mistake.

Simply put, the man is brilliant as Naylor, a genuine snake who is the point man for all PR the tobacco industry puts out. Naylor is front and center and as he points out about 30 seconds into the film, when you think of all the people and industries that hate and actively seek the destruction of the tobacco industry, they all have to go through him first. What makes him so delicious a character is the way nothing sticks to him in the slightest. He's so slick he makes oil seem dry, and Eckhart is hilarious as he navigates Naylor through one awful situation after another.

Oddly enough, some of his best scenes are with a kid actor who up to now has been nothing but a blank for me. Cameron Bright was the creepy empty-space kid in Birth and X-Men 3 so him showing not only life but actual pleasure at being a kid was sort of weird for me as a viewer. His scenes with his dad Nick are terrific because, much to his mother's chagrin, he is his father's son and seeing him learn from the master is pure comedy gold.

On a related note, Katie Holmes again shows a the complete lack of gravitas that caused her to be the lone sore spot in Batman Begins. She plays a reporter who hooks up with Nick for the sake of a story and while I'll grant she delivers on the knock-out line of the film (regarding Nick and his segment on tv) she never comes off as the hard-boiled investigator her character so clearly is meant to be. Maybe it's for the best that Looney Tom and his cult have her locked away in a dungeon somewhere. At least she won't screw up the The Dark Knight when it hits next year.

I could go on and on about the performances with special accolades to William H. Macy as an activist senator and Maria Bello and David Koechner as Nick's compatriots in arms. But for me the buck stops with the great J.K. Simmons who simply demolishes everyone and everything in his path to get to the funny. Just as he does in the Spider-Man films, Simmons fires words out of his mouth so fast you'd think they'd come from a machine gun. Everything the man says in Thank You For Smoking had me in hysterics and for that reason alone I'd recommend the film.

But there is so much more going on here that this demands repeat viewing. What elevates the film considerably is how it doesn't obviously take sides in the issue, as surprising as that may sound. Oh sure, you get a lot of positives and negatives on both sides of the tobacco issue pretty much start to finish and by no means does the industry come out clean. But in the end the film tries to hammer home one fact above all and that is this is a free country and we should enjoy those freedoms to our hearts' content.

Try Thank You For Smoking and I can guarantee that you'll enjoy it.


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