Posted at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2006
by Euan Kerr
Nick Naylor is everything that is great about America, and everything that is bad too. He is handsome, charming, confident, he dresses well, and he shills for big tobacco.
Naylor is the antihero of "Thank You for Smoking" " director Jason Reitman's deliciously funny satire on the fine art of spin. What Naylor does is despicable, but it's impossible not to love him, and in turn that makes you hate yourself just a little. Despite his friendly, winning style, it's clear Naylor's only allegiance is to winning.
Played to the hilt by Aaron Eckhart, Naylor is the self-styled "Colonel Saunders of Nicotine," who is described by others as the "Yuppie Mephistopheles." He's the Vice-President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies who delights in triumphing again and again as he defends his client's products. He'll even take down a little girl during a visit to his son's grade school class, when she tells him her mother says smoking is bad.
"Is she a doctor? No? Well, she doesn't sound like a credible expert."
The script based on Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel is incredibly tight with hardly a wasted word. What makes it truly wonderful is that just about everyone in the story is a weasel to some extent or another. There's William H. Macy as the anti-tobacco campaigning US Senator whose proper demeanor disappears behind his office's closed doors, and Katie Holmes as an unscrupulous newspaper reporter. Even Nick's son Joey (Cameron Bright) who initially questions his father's occupation comes to appreciate the advantages of "moral flexibility."
"Thank You for Smoking" isn't going to break box office records, but like "Wag the Dog" it's going to stick around in people's psyche's as they delight in just how good some people are at being bad.
An amoral ubermensch like Naylor cannot decide to become a humdrum average man, which is essentially the story's ending. It didn't ring true.