Magazine article The American Conservative

Lighting Up the Screen

Magazine article The American Conservative

Lighting Up the Screen

Article excerpt


[Thank You for Smoking]

Lighting Up the Screen

AS THE AVERAGE American ages, public interest in music and film declines while the obsession with politics grows. Baby boomers, who spent the 1960s arguing over the Beatles vs. the Stones and then the 1970s debating De Niro vs. Pacino, now call in to talk radio to harangue about Republicans vs. Democrats.

Hollywood was slow to catch on, but since "Fahrenheit 9/11" it's been pushing left-wing agitprop like "Syriana." While plenty of money could be made with right-wing movies, the box-office slump will have to get a lot deeper before Hollywood will stoop so low as to appeal to the 51 percent of the public that voted the wrong way in 2004.

In the meantime, fortunately, there's the witty centrist satire "Thank You for Smoking." It's a reasonably faithful adaptation of the 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley (son of William F.) about the chief spokesman for the tobacco industry, the "yuppie Mephistopheles" Nick Naylor. Produced by David O. Sacks, a research fellow at the libertarian-conservative Independent Institute, the film's plague-on-both-your-houses attitude toward cigarette companies and their killjoy enemies probably won't make it a huge hit, but it's smart and entertaining, although more amusing than hilarious.

Young director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan, director of "Ghostbusters") has chosen his cast wisely. Robert Duvall plays a sly old North Carolina tobacco billionaire. Sam Elliott, who has been the great American cowboy character actor during a generation almost bereft of great American cowboy movies, portrays a former Marlboro Man whom Nick must bribe to shut up about his lung cancer.

Katie Holmes is an ethics-free reporter who seduces Nick to advance her career. In the book, the redheaded vixen Heather Holloway is clearly based on the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. Holmes, who is now engaged to Tom Cruise, seems to have modeled her character on the life, however, of Katie Holmes.

As Nick, the square-jawed all-American face of tobacco on TV talk shows, Aaron Eckhart is perfectly cast. Eckhart's career as a leading man has never taken off because, with his blond hair and movie star's dimpled chin, he's annoyingly handsome. Eckhart played the meek grad student beaten down by his unmanly job in the 2002 version of A. …

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