Thank You for Smoking; Dir. Jason Reitman. 2005. 92mins. Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott.

A glance at the trailer suggests this astute political farce may be a libertarian response to liberal muckraking flicks like SuperSize Me and the collected works of Michael Moore. Upon closer inspection, however, we can neatly categorize this satiric gem under Stephen Colbert’s spin-cycle, reality-bending genre of “truthiness.” Ruthless tobacco giants and the quixotic do-gooders who battle them are alike skewered, and thus for narrative direction and resolution the film relies upon the evolving relationship between divorced tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor (Eckhart) and his morally inquisitive son, Joey (Bright). Ethics, though, are quickly trumped by the sharp barbs of business-speak: when Joey’s stepfather asks if Nick is exposing his son to second-hand smoke, Nick deftly replies, “Look – I’m Joey’s father. You’re the guy who’s screwing his mom.” Reitman’s script, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley, moves quickly from Washington DC to the Salem-Winston sanctuary of big tobacco’s julep-sipping “The Captain” (Duvall), to the Hollywood offices of Jeff Megall (Lowe), a zen-obsessed PR whiz who promises to deliver his client the mother of all product-placement: Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones in an on-screen, galactic post-coital smoke (an effort to return to the unrepentant smoky heyday of Bogie, Bacall, and Betty Davis). Katie Holmes plays the “Washington Probe” reporter Heather Holloway, who screws Nick (literally, then figuratively) to advance her career (could Ms. Holmes art, perchance, be imitating her life?…). This film can be seen as the Bush-era update of Michael Mann’s 1999 tobacco exposé The Insider. Back then, the truth set us free; now, we are free to choose from multiple truths, and the fabulous caricatures (William H. Macy as schoolmarmish Vermont Senator Finistirre, Sam Elliott as the ailing original Marlboro Man) can never completely hide the ominous undertone of the Enlightenment’s demise in contemporary American politics.

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