Directed by Jason Reitman. USA. 2006.

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Reitman (son of Ivan) makes his feature length debut with an adaptation of the novel by Christopher Buckley.  It tells the story of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) who is a lobbyist on behalf of the Academy of Tobacco Studies (ATS), a pro-smoking organisation sponsored by the tobacco industry.  It follows Nick as he goes about his business persuading people that tobacco is not the root of all cancer and his attempts to convince Hollywood to take up smoking again on the silver screen, while he balances the act of being a real smooth-talking bastard and a good father to a son who now lives with his ex-wife and boyfriend. 

Eckhart is used most effectively, possibly for the first time in his career, allowing his natural ease with dialogue and matinee idol looks to come to the fore.  Nick has to be somebody you at the same time hate but would not mind seeing your sister going out with.  And Eckhart, who played a misogynistic bully in The Company of Men (1997), we know can play nasty but I do not remember feeling sympathy for him as I do at one point in this film. 

Nick is a messenger who goes to Hollywood, daytime talk shows, the Marlboro man, Washington DC and lunches with his friends from alcohol and firearms.  All to spread the word that tobacco can be good.  The film has a rich black humour running through it, mostly garnered by the MOD (Merchants of Death) lunches where they bounce mortality rates off each other.  But each man must get unstuck and Nick does when he gets interviewed by Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) for a Washington paper and finds out that everything is on the record.  This might prove to be his downfall but he resurrects and then enjoys a Jimmy Stewart moment before a congressional hearing where he says he would buy his son some cigarettes on his 18th birthday if he wished. 

This is where the film gets watered down in its third act after having a typical glorious first act and then the dramatic downfall of the second.  But it always has its humour mostly from the excellent ensemble cast; Rob Lowe as the know-all Hollywood agent who lives in a huge glass (goldfish bowl) structure, his assistant Adam Brody (not Adrian, this is Seth off the O.C.), William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons and Robert Duvall. 

A Hollywood comedy that is entertaining, interesting and has a message to say and cleverly for a film that is so fixed upon the idea and feel of smoking, it is good to see that in this PC world they get this part of the film right - there is not a cigarette in sight and no one lights up. 

Jamie Garwood
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