DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Thank You for Smoking, Our Brand Is Crisis, Bright Leaves

 

Title:  Thank You for Smoking

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 95 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Content Film

Director; Writer: Jason Reitman, novel by Christopher Buckley

Producer: David O. Sacks

Cast:  Aaron Eckhart , Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, William H. Macy  

Technical: Full 2:3 to 1, lots of brown and sepia filters

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  libertarianism and tobacco; right of publicity and the workplace; "vicious satire"

 

In 2003 I talked to a life insurance company about the possibility of joining them as an agent, helping convert oogles of customers from whole life to term. I was supposed to go out and hustle them for business. The interviewer said, “We give you the words.” Then I was supposed to manipulate the customer like a real man would.

 

So it is with some lobbyists. Aaron Eckhart, who looks manly enough with his hairy chest, is Nick Naylor, the lobbyist for Big Tobacco. He is bonded well to his son Joey (Cameron Bright) and is well motivated by parenthood to do anything manly and competitive for his kids. So he is the hired honcho to save Big Tobacco. He has no mind of his own. Perhaps he is a bit of Babbitt from Sinclair Lewis. His arch enemy is Democratic Vermont Senator Finistirre (William H. Macy). The movie starts with an interview with Cancer Boy, bald at fifteen from chemotherapy for cancer associated with teen smoking. His boss (Robert Duvall) hits on the idea of paying Hollywood to show smoking in the movies again. He travels to LA, and is greeted at the funding group by Jack, played by the O.C. Adam Brody, who is still like Seth (the advanced placement kid who wrote the comic book and perhaps a bit of Geek for the WB show), greets him and takes him to Jeff (Rob Lowe), who hits on the idea a lot of smoking in a Sony picture with the title ending in “ …. Sixth Sector.” (No, none of my own screenplay titles showed up. Too bad.)  Nick takes his son with him, even out to a ranch where he bribes a dying executive. He says the truth of anything is in the argument, and that you can argue anything.

 

But then its really rolls. His boss arranges a kidnapping in Washington. He is definitely going to get it. In the SUV, the kidnappers scissor off his clothes, unveiling and revealing him, and then attack the hairy parts of his bod (legs and chest) with sticky nicotine patches. Now, they missed an opportunity here. The movie should have shown Nick’s legs as withered with alopecia. Because it interferes with peripheral circulation, cigarette smoking causes men to go bald in the legs. It also interferes with erectile function. Heavy smoking, therefore, can emasculate you, and take away your manliness. He is rushed to the hospital, and the movie misses its chance to show him as a man-o-latern. The doctors tell him that a non-smoker would have died of nicotine poisoning. Ironically, the fact that he was a heavy smoker saves his pathetic life. (Oh, yes, he has the remnants of his family.)

 

Eventually, his employer shuts down. The movie studios agree to go back and digitally remove cigarettes from old movies.

 

Some of my libertarian friends avidly defend smoking, even as a prophylactic against Alzheimers. (I don’t see how.) Smoking was totally acceptable a half century ago. What happened? We live longer, and we judge people more as individuals than we used to. So self-destructive behavior, even when legal, has become less approved socially. 

 

Nick will have to find another job. He might face extreme prejudice, given how he hocked himself for a living. There is an early scene where the Senator tells his aide (Todd Louiso) that the aide becomes him when he speaks for him in public. That is the problem when people pay you to speak for them. You have no soul, no personal integrity. You lose all rights to be respected. Unless you do it to raise a family.

 

This film does provide some indirect insight into the recent reports of employers

 Google-hacking job applicants to see what they do online (or checking their myspace profiles); many people could not credibly make a living by speaking publicly for others. Because, as in this film, doing so denies personal integrity.

 

This film bears some comparison to "Supersize Me," about the fast-food industry.

 

Thank you for not smoking!    

 

Our Brand Is Crisis (2005, Koch-Lorber, dir. Rachel Boynton, 85 min, PG, Germany/USA, 85 min) is another account of what happens when somebody pays you (a lobbyist that is) to do spin for them. Here the payor is a candidate for president in the 2002 elections in Bolivia, Ganzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and the lobbying firm is Greenville, Devine and Carville. (Is it on K Street? That's where a lot of them are, in NW Washington, DC.) Yup, that's Clinton's spinmesiter James Carville, whom I met walking his dog on Capitol Hill in 1994 when I was on the way to a Log Cabin function. He says "we're right, they're wrong." But in political lobbying, it's about being effective (use baby talk and simple messages, and don't say too much!), not being right. Carville at one point mentions that the candidates had expected whiz-bang SAS statistics and chi-square analysis, but what they get is downhome talk. They fly back and forth to La Paz, which looks spectacular on film, with the pinkish buildings going up a mountain. The poorest people live at the highest altitude, as the valley itself is at 12000 feet. This is the highest capital in the world (remember that for Jeopardy!) No mention is made of the altitude adjustment. The candidate wins his election, but the country goes downhill as it does not buy his free market-oriented reforms, and in fourteen months he is driven out by left-wing elements (the pink and red colors of the flags is noticeable) and massive demonstrations by "the people." The lobbyists reflect on their roles. In the title of the movie, the word "Crisis" is shown as a registered trademark; I'm not sure how this is possible.

 

I worked for a company that supported health care lobbying from 1988-1990, developing reports and tables, largely with SAS software, on hospital operating margins.  The company was Lewin, and it may be about time for a documentary movie about health care. Look at the law that was just passed in Massachusetts.

 

Bright Leaves (2003, First Run Features / Homemade Films, dir. Ross McElwee, 100 min) is a documentary of the filmmaker's visit to big tobacco country in the North Carolina Piedmont, with the subtle ways that the industry still tries to promote its product, with beauty queen pageants (the contestants keep getting younger). The film starts with images of tobacco leaves growing in a field, overwhelming us with green (an irony now). He gives some interesting history of the automation of cigarette manufacturing.  The economy of the entire state used to depend heavily on this harmful product, and that seems to lead to bad karma now. He shows an excerpt from the 1950 Warner Bros. film "Bright Leaf" with Gary Cooper, about the controversy over mass production of cigarettes. Perhaps because of social sensitivity, Time Warner has never released this classic film on DVD. Other television documentaries have noted the growing social ostracism against tobacco farming in some areas, like southern Maryland, where they have to fight off the impression that they are "drug dealers."

 

 

Related reviews:. The Forty Year Old Virgin     The War Room  Supersize Me

 

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