Aaron Eckhart first turned heads as the detestable Chad in Neil LaBute's searing 1997 directorial debut In The Company of Men. In the ensuing years since, Eckhart has drifted in Hollywood – bouncing from projects well received (Erin Brockovich) to projects better forgotten (The Core). An often underused and underestimated blend of matinee idol looks and car salesman panache, the actor hasn't found that magical combination reflected in his roles, one which allows him to open up and tear into a part. Wave hi to Eckhart's return to form: Nick Naylor, Big Tobacco's chief lobbyist, a slick spinmeister and the focal point of writer/director Jason Reitman's devastating satire Thank You For Smoking.
Adapted from Christopher Buckley's acclaimed novel, Thank You For Smoking hinges upon Eckhart's effortlessly compelling performance as Naylor, a welcome change from Eckhart's parade of thinly written stock cliches. Reitman surrounds Eckhart with a veritable bonanza of character actors – William H. Macy, Maria Bello, David Koechner, Cameron Bright, J.K. Simmons, Kim Dickens, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, Todd Louiso and Rob Lowe all contribute exquisite work. On the heels of a highly stylized opening credits sequence, you meet Naylor -- "that guy who can pick up any girl – on crack" -- a motormouthed, oily and utterly convincing lobbyist, whose boss Budd "BR" Rohrabacher (Simmons) dispatches him like the peacekeeping UN troops, whether it be to undermine health professionals on daytime talkshows or put a good face on for elected officials.
As Big Tobacco's go-to guy, Naylor finds himself slipping ever deeper into morally questionable waters – despite assurances from fellow lobbyists Polly Bailey (Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (Koechner) – Naylor's son Joey (Bright) begins asking more and more questions, ones that Naylor can't necessarily answer. Naylor soon finds himself battling with Vermont senator Ortolan K. Finistirre (Macy) over the placement of a warning label on packages of cigarettes.
Thank You For Smoking is an uncomfortably sharp satire that swipes at Hollywood, lobbyists, parenting and half a dozen other topics with the faintest whiff of conscience – brainy and hilarious, Reitman's cinematic adaptation of Buckley's novel neatly pierces the balloon of pretension, retaining a spicy literary air. The ensemble is superb – Eckhart is tremendous and the extensive cast ably supports him; DP James Whitaker contributes exceptional visuals and composer Rolfe Kent also lends an able hand.
Thank You For Smoking is habit-forming, lacing its razor-sharp commentary with bilious laughs – making his feature film debut, writer/director Jason Reitman teams with Aaron Eckhart, in his best performance in a decade, to deliver one of 2006's great films. The DVD
Thank You For Smoking is presented with a sparkling, razor-sharp 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that doesn't suffer from any noticeable visual defects – colors pop, blacks are rich and as befits a recently released film, the image is immaculate. The Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't flashy, but it gets the job done – a few moments of surround activity aside, the audio end of things is relegated to imparting dialogue cleanly and clearly, with no distortion or drop-out. A Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo track is also included as are English, French and Spanish subtitles. The Extras:
A veritable bonanza of supplemental material is included here, not least of which is a pair of commentary tracks – one with a candid, engaging Reitman (who geeks out at the 20th Century Fox theme) and an equally involving commentary with Reitman, Eckhart and Koechner. Thirteen deleted scenes, offered in non-anamorphic widescreen and playable separately or together for an aggregate of 15 minutes, 35 seconds, feature optional Reitman commentary; an 18 minute, 22 second segment of the Charlie Rose show featuring Reitman, producer David Sacks, Eckhart and Buckley is on board, as is the eight minute, 56 second featurette "Unfiltered Comedy: The Making of 'Thank You For Smoking'," and the four minute, 58 second featurette "America: Living In Spin." A poster art gallery, art department gallery, storyboard gallery, the film's theatrical trailer and a soundtrack spot complete the package. Final Thoughts:
Thank You For Smoking is habit-forming, lacing its razor-sharp commentary with bilious laughs – making his feature film debut, writer/director Jason Reitman teams with Aaron Eckhart, in his best performance in a decade, to deliver one of 2006's great films. Highly recommended. Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.