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Key issues raised in “Thank You for Smoking”

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Propaganda – a buzzword with highly negative connotations denoting something meant to elicit a response without the viewer thinking hardly at all.

Few issues could be brought up that deal more with propaganda than smoking. The ubiquitous ad campaigns on television warning of the dangers of smoking and the evil empire of smoking companies are legion and offer very little on the other side of the coin. Smoking is dirty, unhealthy and tobacco companies do nothing but deceive trying to make a quick buck.

Enter “Thank You For Smoking.” Revolving around the life of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist working for Academy of Tobacco who studies the fictional parody of the actual Tobacco Institute, this film explores the side of the tobacco industry the Stand and Truth campaigns don’t talk about – what goes into selling cigarettes.

The dull nature of this film, exploring the tobacco industry and the journey of Naylor through the film, serves it well. Naylor’s son, whom he is trying to raise well while working for a so-called evil industry, raises many pertinent questions not only for his father but for the audience. Are tobacco companies evil or are they merely selling a product people are free to buy or not buy at their choosing?

The film explores this in the context of a supposed new label on cigarette packages which will include a skull and crossbones indicating their unhealthy nature. The companies send Naylor to Hollywood to attempt to bring cigarettes back into the movies and so back into “cool.” Rob Lowe plays the eccentric Hollywood executive, Jeff Megall, who is oddly obsessed over Asian culture and seems to never sleep.

All this occurs because of a label and declining cigarette sales. As Naylor travels between meetings with a tobacco executive (Robert Duvall), the now cancerous former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliot) and his weekly meetings with the “Merchants of Death” (lobbyists for the alcohol and firearms industries), the audience is made privy to the nature of spin and what it means to sell a product harmful to people.

Naylor is ultimately a sympathetic character. The struggles he faces raising his son while working for “Big Tobacco” and trying to separate work and family while telling his son that all those people who say cigarettes are bad are only giving half the story creates a very nice, albeit toned down melodrama within which to frame the bigger issues the movie wants to tackle. The romantic connection between Naylor and reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) is trite and could be done away with if not for the fact that Heather’s story on Naylor sets up the resolution of the film.

This DVD has a very attractive casing but not much in the way of worthwhile extras. The DVD exists in the widescreen format, and although the film does not capture any breathtaking vistas or anything of the like that showcases widescreen films, it is still better than the full screen edition. A featurette is interesting but, as this film did little different in the method of making films, it is really just information.

Overall, the film is well done and thus the DVD is successful. For a movie that purports to be a melodrama about a guy who works for cigarette companies, there are more issues raised here than in most mainstream films. It isn’t revolutionary but it does elicit questions that our time is facing and for which answers are needed. The humor, the good acting and a solid script anchor this DVD with a strong film and not-so-special extras. While the movie does not give any answers as to whether there should exist more or less restrictions on smoking, it raises some good questions.