There's a scene about half way through Thank You For Smoking in which you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Sitting around the table of a seedy café are Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart), Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) who between them are the chief lobbyists for the tobacco, alcohol and firearms industries. The topic of debate? Whose sin products kill the most people, and hence which lobbyist has the toughest job.
In the end it's a debate that Nick Naylor wins, with the proud boast that tobacco kills 435,000 Americans a year. Something to be proud of.
Thank You For Smoking is that kind of film. It takes the shrill moral absolutism of public condemnation of the tobacco industry and cleverly subverts it. The set up is pretty straight forward, but the dilemmas that emerge are not. Nick Naylor is a smooth talking public relations professional working on behalf of the tobacco industry. Desperate to turn around the decline in the number of young American smokers, he spends his days thinking up and executing schemes to change the perception of the industry. Meanwhile, in a parallel plotline, Naylor is grappling with his responsibilities as a divorced father who is keen to stay a part of his adolescent son's life.
Read the rest at The Program.