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From Under A Rock: Thank You for Smoking

January 28, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Thank You for Smoking  


Not every great movie goes down a classic. For one reason or another, it’s overlooked or underappreciated. This week, Michael picks a movie that very much falls into that category, in his opinion.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Raging Bull. It’s a beautifully-made movie with anything but beauty in the soul of its main character. It was a tough one, but ultimately a fantastic movie. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Thank You for Smoking.

Thank You for Smoking
Released: March 17th, 2006
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Jason Reitman
Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor
William H. Macy as Senator Ortolan Finistirre
Katie Holmes as Heather Holloway
J.K. Simmons as “BR”
Rob Lowe as Jeff Megall

Michael Ornelas: This is a movie that I’ve always adored. I saw it not too long after it first came out (I forget if it was in theaters or not), and it immediately struck me as a brilliant piece of satire and a bold situation to put a likable protagonist in. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s criminally overlooked despite being written by the acclaimed writer/director who made Juno and Up in the Air, Jason Reitman.

Aaron Hubbard: Sometimes a title is everything. Thank You for Smoking immediately caught my attention when I saw it on shelves, and when Aaron Eckhart was cast in The Dark Knight I immediately recognized him from this. And yet somehow it took me twelve years to catch it.
It’s Not Really About Smoking
Michael: While Big Tobacco is the backdrop for this story, this movie is about language and, more specifically, how to debate. It’s about hard work. It’s about being a good father when you work in an industry that is so closely associated with death and addiction. There’s a moral gray area in his line of work, but Nick Naylor is a man who keeps his head down and pushes through as one of, if not the best at what he does. And what does he do? Talk. His arc is unique because we’re actively rooting for him despite our minds knowing what’s wrong. We support his right to free speech against the governmental oppressors (led by WIlliam H. Macy in a fantastic performance) because his message is this: we all know the dangers already. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and make a choice with the information we have on-hand. That stretches far beyond cigarettes, but life as a whole.

Aaron: Unsurprisingly, the film has drawn a lot of criticism from many groups of people. Some think the film is advocating for smoking (it isn’t), or being preachy about how smoking is bad for you. Still others dislike it for essentially taking a non-stance. Proof that you can’t win them all. And while the book this is based on is a little more hostile to everyone, I don’t think that’s what interested director Jason Reitman. The movie is more about Nick Naylor, the kind of person it takes to do his job, and the humor we can glean from the situation. I don’t know if you’ve seen the alternate ending, but it really undermines the whole movie by actually being preachy. I won’t spoil it, but I’m very glad they didn’t go with it.

Michael: I have not seen the alternate ending, but I honestly wouldn’t want to tarnish this one because I feel it works so well. It’s thematically perfect for who Nick Naylor has shown us he is, and who he’s grown to be.
Laughing in the Face of Death
Aaron: Comedy is generally a genre that doesn’t connect with me, but this one made me laugh pretty consistently. A lot of that comes down to Aaron Eckhart’s charm and ability to make absurd statements feel reasonable. His relationship with the reporter, his trip to the school, the conversation with his son about ice cream… he had me eating out of his hand. But there were other good things as well; the always great J.K. Simmons, and probably the most tolerable performance of Katie Holmes’ career.

Michael: This movie is downright hilarious at moments. Everything about Rob Lowe and Adam Brody’s characters had me in stitches. Maybe part of it is living in Los Angeles and being more exposed to these types of people, but they were an absolute riot. I also think the MOD Squad scenes are underrated in terms of their comedic value. The idea alone of their weekly appointment is genius. David Koechner is an actor who’s had to grow on me over the years, but I really appreciate the characters he tends to play. He was pitch perfect to play the spin artist of the gun industry.

Aaron: Lastly, you alluded to him earlier, but William H. Macy is spectacular in this. He’s playing a character that is basically trying to do the right thing, but he’s so obnoxious about it that it’s hard to take him seriously. The film does a good job of making you want to see Naylor go head-to-head with this guy, and the payoff is fantastic. “The great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese.” I died at this line.
Faster Than Naylor
Michael: One thing that goes under the radar in this film is the editing. The film never reaches a slow point because it’s just constantly moving on to the next thing. The pacing is essentially a reflection of the main character and his ability to bullshit his way through anything. They use quick cuts at times to prevent its audience from ever feeling restless. It slows the editing when Naylor is carrying the scene with his fast-talking. It focuses on exactly the right moments and the result is a film that doesn’t feel slow even once. I think it’s overlooked how difficult it is to do that.

Aaron: I definitely agree with this. Editing a comedy is tough, as you have to be able to anticipate audience reaction and get a feel for the rhythm of when they are going to laugh out loud, when they are just going to smile, etc. This film relies more on wit, and the fast editing doesn’t give us too many pauses to marinate in. I suspect that will make enjoyable to rewatch, now that the first viewing allowed the big jokes to sink in. I feel that’s essential to a comedy becoming something that I watch repeatedly.

Michael: Definitely. And this is one I’ve seen probably 4 or 5 times now (even though it had been awhile since I last watched it). There are so many nuanced one-liners that don’t sound jokey, which is something I adore these days. I’m not a fan of jokes set up just for the sake of having a joke. Everything here fits contextually and nothing is shoehorned in.

Aaron: Thank You For Smoking is a film that seemed destined to be a cult classic. It’s subversive and controversial without really being offensive, and if it takes any stance on smoking, it’s to give power to its viewers to make their own choice. The whole cast is stellar, but Aaron Eckhart fires on all cylinders as Nick Naylor. My only real issues were that I felt the film looked a little unpolished, almost as if it was made for TV. It doesn’t hurt it too badly, but I do wish it was as interesting to look at as it was to listen to. I definitely look forward to seeing this again.


Michael: This viewing of the film really boosted it for me. Watching with a more mature eye allowed me to take in a lot of what I’ve missed in past viewings. It’s a much more nuanced movie than it would seem (even though it does have a lot that qualifies as “in your face” as well…but not in a bad way). The direction, the story, and the incredible performances all around (and potentially a career high for Eckhart) make this a pretty damn great package. The only thing that took this down a little for me was the attempt on Naylor’s life, which was a little ridiculous in nature (although I know that was the intent). Regardless: overlooked and underrated gem of a film.


Aaron: All of that, and we don’t get a single shot of anyone smoking.

Michael: Well…cigarettes, anyways. There’s a lovely shot of a candy cane being smoked though.

What’s your favorite underrated gem?

Next week:

Aaron: February is starting the year off with a bang with two of my most anticipated films of 2017: The LEGO Batman Movie and John Wick: Chapter 2. And next week, I’m preparing you to get on this hype train with one of my favorite action movies from this decade.
Michael: It’s been a good while since I’ve watched a badass action movie, and from everything I’ve heard, this is one of those. Count me in.

Aaron: If Fury Road hadn’t arrived, this would probably be my favorite action movie to come out since Casino Royale. You’ll love it.

What is your favorite Keanu Reeves movie?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking

Aaron Has Another Column!
411 Comics Showcase took a week off as I prepare for The 52 Greatest Marvel Superheroes in February. It’s gonna be a blast. In the meantime, check out my new column Taken For Granted. This week, I reviewed Taxi Driver; next week, The Matrix.

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for 700 films. Recent reviews include Network, Spotlight, The Day the Earth Stood Still and All The President’s Men .

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
This film has flown under the radar more than most of the movies we've covered. It's a real gem of a comedy, with a lot of great talent. If you only know Aaron Eckhart from The Dark Knight, you should definitely check him out here and see what he can do when he actually has material to work with.