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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

Thank You for Smoking

A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L
-- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R --
restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

"Thank You for Smoking" is a trenchant black comedy based on Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel, which purports to show the ends to which the multibillion-dollar business will go to keep the public buying their carcinogenic product.

“Nick Naylor does not hide the truth...he filters it."

Satire is all but lost as an art form. It tends to be found in the more immediate medium of television (like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show) rather than in film. Even the low budget satire, Thank You for Smoking, took twelve years to move from the novel by Christopher Buckley to the film written and directed by Jason Reitman. Even though it doesn’t fully live up to its potential, I’m glad this politically incorrect political satire finally made it to the screen.

Thank You for Smoking is the story of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a spokesman for “Big Tobacco.” In voice-over narrative, Nick describes himself as “the most hated man in America.” It’s easy to see why. He outrages just about everyone by unashamedly defending the tobacco lobby in the media and in public appearances. For example, while speaking at his son’s school, he challenges a girl who says that her Mommy told her smoking kills people. “Is your Mommy a doctor? A scientist? A researcher?” asks Nick. When the girl answers negatively, he responds, “Then she’s not really an authority, is she?” It would be easier to dismiss Nick if he was some rude, disgusting, or stupid man. But he is charming, witty, young, and handsome. Nick has a spin doctor’s knack for disarming every opponent with a condescending smile on his face. As he tells his son, he doesn’t have to prove that his position is right. He only has to prove that the other position is false.

The best moments of Thank You for Smoking involve Nick’s frequent dinners with his cohorts from the “MOD Squad:” a woman representing the Alcohol Lobby, and a man representing the Gun Lobby. They form a kind of politically incorrect support group. In one scene, they actually argue over which product kills more people! The film is at its best during these well written and acted scenes. In addition, there are other clever moments including the scenes with the great actor Robert Duvall as the defiant head of a tobacco company who takes Nick under his wing.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to sustain the cleverness of the satire, even for the brief 90 minute duration of the film. It is uneven, and even it becomes sentimental at the end. Does Nick really change, or is it just more spin? After years of neglect, Nick also tries to mend his relationship with his twelve year old son. In these scenes, the film loses the sharpness of its satire and looks like many other family comedy-dramas starring anyone from Tom Cruise to Adam Sandler.

At its best, Thank You for Smoking is a send up of spin doctors and media-savvy people doing anything and everything they can to manipulate a gullible public. In a good move, the film even shows the “Good Guys” (e.g. William H. Macy as Vermont Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre trying to prosecute the tobacco industry) using the same spin tactics as our anti-hero Nick. It’s to the credit of writer-director Reitman that I actually found myself rooting for the smiling, confident Nick over Finistirre who, despite his own efforts at spin, constantly comes across and self-righteous and befuddled.

I found myself wondering where the Dominican motto of Veritas fits in to this scenario. What does this have to do with those of us who are preachers of the truth? Thank You for Smoking is a caution against the inauthentic spin doctors of the world, who care little for truth and the common good. As preachers, we must be authentic witnesses of the Gospel if we have any chance of influencing anyone else. At the same time, we cannot be so naive as to discount the influence of spin and the media, as demonstrated by the hapless Senator Finistirre. I think Dominic would want us to study media, communication, and even popular culture if we are to stand a chance against the Nick Naylor’s of the world. Otherwise, we, along with the Truth we profess, will seem more and more obsolete in a world spinning out of control.

Tom Condon, OP






As preachers, we must be authentic witnesses of the Gospel if we have any chance of influencing anyone else.

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