Starring: Aaron Eckhardt, Maria Bello, William H. Macy, Katie Holmes, Robert Duvall
Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
An excellent film, based on the early '90s novel by Christopher Buckley, which attempts to tackle the subject of our politically correct world by telling the story of Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Naylor is played with unwavering confidence by Aaron Eckhardt, reminding me of his standout performance in In the Company of Men. But in this film, he has a softer side, in the form of a son who worships him, despite the fact that the rest of the world thinks he's Satan. It's ostensibly a comedy, and there are some very funny moments. But as a deep satire, it isn't so much laugh-out-loud funny as it is amusing and right on the mark. The supporting cast is excellent, the script is sharp and poignant, and the direction from first-timer Jason Reitman is top notch. Just an all around great movie, definitely recommended for your next Netflix.
Right there, looking into Joey's eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why
I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the
disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own
consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land
mine developer, the baby seal poacher ...
Polly Bailey: Baby seal poacher?
Bobby Jay Bliss: Even I think that's kind of cruel.
Nick is the hero of the film, an excellent talker and salesman who is able to make the tobacco bosses he represents come off as not so bad in the press. But things are bad for his industry, and he is facing a senator played by William H. Macy who is trying to destroy him by placing a huge poison label on cigarettes. A reporter played by Katie Holmes (pre-Tom Cruise craziness, and presumably her last actual role until she frees herself from his clutches) also wants to take him down, in the form of an interview. And his ex-wife is not exactly a fan. Plus, he gets kidnapped and stuck with hundreds of nicotine patches, which almost kills him. And yet, you can 't help but root for him and against all the do-gooders trying to take him down. I'm not sure why that is exactly, but it's so well done that it's not worth wondering why. Just a great piece of filmmaking.
My Mommy says smoking kills.
Nick Naylor: Oh, is your Mommy a doctor?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: A scientific researcher of some kind?
Kid #3: No.
Nick Naylor: Well then she's hardly a credible expert, is she?
It's a complicated film in that the roles of the heroes and villains are reversed, and Macy's senator comes off as the bad guy, but it does address larger issues. While the movie doesn't necessarily endorse cigarette smoking, it does defend the right of Americans to partake in the practice, even with the medical risks associated. These same risks are prevalent in excessive eating (McDonald's), excessive drinking (Jack Daniels), poor driving (GM), voting (George Bush) and many other industries in America that do not come under such hostile fire from the press and public as cigarettes. Naylor defends this right to smoke vehemently, this free will that has slowly been removed from American society for the past two decades. And when it's put that way, it's difficult not to root for him to win.
The OC's Seth Cohen plays a Hollywood agent's assistant and Rob Lowe plays the agent in a gambit that Naylor has to help finance films that show actors smoking again. A complicated and ridiculous plot involving Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta Jones in space becomes a running joke, but it works well. Most everything here works well, including a trip by Naylor and his son to the home of the Marlboro Man, who's been diagnosed with cancer. It's very uncertain where they are possibly going to go with the scene, but they find a way out brilliantly. As I fledgling writer, it's great to see.
Anyway, the movie is available on DVD and is highly recommended. A subplot involving Nick and two friends who work for the alcohol and firearms industries is excellent as well. Just an all-around joy to watch.
Nick, your job and everything aside, I hope you understand that second hand smoke's a real killer.
Nick Naylor: What are you talking about?
Brad: I just hope you're providing a smoke-free environment for Joey is all I'm saying.
Nick Naylor: Brad, I'm his father. You're the guy fucking his mom.
Brad: That was unnecessary.